America wastes 63 million tons of food every year, totaling around $218 billion a year spent farming, processing, shipping, and disposing of unused food. That is about a third of our food supply ending up in landfills, taking up space and releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the air. In fact, according to the EPA, food waste is the single most abundant material in American landfills and is responsible for 20% of the total methane emissions from landfills. This is all taking place while there are 42 million Americans living with food insecurity. Fortunately, public awareness on this issue has been increasing in the last few years and many companies have taken the initiative to reduce their food waste and give back to their communities. Improvements in food packaging, donations to charities, and discounting “ugly” produce are some of the more common and effective approaches being seen amongst food retailers. Advances like these have proven themselves to be quite valuable in the fight against waste and hunger while at the same time, significantly lowering costs to the retailer.
Unfortunately, not all food can be saved by these methods in which case we must turn to recycling. This is an area that still needs quite a bit of work as it is estimated that only 10% of unsold food is recycled within retail. The most popular and common recycling options for food waste at the moment are 1) composting which decomposes organic material via heat, aerobic bacteria, and other organisms to produce fertilizer and 2) anaerobic digestion which breaks down material using microorganisms and the absence of oxygen to produce biogas. Both of these recycling options sound promising on paper but in reality, are quite impractical and pose several problems of their own.
Composting, as trendy as it has become, requires a large amount of space, time, and management and yields an inconsistent product that is difficult to control. The decomposing process in composting still releases greenhouse gases and can produce unpleasant odors, attract pests, and have been found to harbor dangerous bacteria like legionellae, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. Workers at composting sites are also exposed to inhalable dust and bacterial endotoxins that can lead to respiratory problems and possible other health issues.
Anaerobic digestion demands a lot of space as well and requires a large waste volume in order to be financially feasible which excludes most small and mid-sized businesses from using the technology. Anaerobic digestion, gained a lot of publicity due to the claim that it simply turns trash into fuel, an idea that sounds so perfect for our modern-day problems, many people jumped on the band wagon without really questioning it. Although the technology can technically extract biogas from waste, the yield is so low that it is not economically viable. Digesters are also fairly finicky as they do not handle contamination well and require a lot of water to properly function. What is most alarming is what happened in the UK when people realized that typical food waste was not an ideal feedstock and switched to specific crops like corn, wheat, and potatoes to feed the digesters in order to yield more biogas. This practice is probably the worst consequence of anaerobic digestion as land used for growing food for people was being taken to feed digesters. On top of that, the fuel needed to grow and transport the crops for digesters completely destroys any carbon reducing benefits the technology was initially meant to employ.
On the bright side, there is another promising recycling option in the form of dehydration which poses fewer problems, requires very little space and maintenance, and is environmentally and socially responsible. Dehydrators heat up a chamber to 180°F which induces evaporation and produces a solid material that is very dry and lightweight, biologically inert, and virtually odorless. Due to the extreme volume reduction of waste and the extreme dryness of the material, storing and hauling the product is much easier and dramatically less costly. The material also maintains a high nutrient value which makes it a great ingredient for use in soil amendments, animal feed, and is actually a more effective and time saving feedstock for traditional compost or vermiculture due to high temperatures which kill pathogens and weed seeds. Also, while composting and anaerobic digestion require large amounts of water to function, dehydration actually produces distilled water that is evaporated from the food waste and can be used for irrigation, cleaning, or can be safely disposed of down the drain.
Although dehydration does not break down food waste like composting and anaerobic digestion does, it converts waste into an easily manageable material with the potential for many uses. This technology helps fill the gap for businesses who are too small to compost or digest but still want or need to recycle. It can be combined with other recycling methods to quicken and improve the break down process. Dehydration is fast and easy to use, has fewer risks and negative consequences, and is financially beneficial in so many ways. Call (949) 287-2145 to learn more!