I’ve written at length about the importance of embracing composting and sustainable measures. We need to reduce the amount of food waste we produce, as when it sits in landfills it’s one of the largest contributors to climate change. But it’s a bigger picture issue than just us, and the foods we’re handling in our own homes. We need to turn our focus to the larger problem at hand: commercial food waste.
All households produce food waste at some level. However, the amount of food waste that we produce at home is incomparable to the volume of food waste that hotels, stadiums, grocery stores, and restaurants produce on a daily basis.
Fortunately, there are solutions to the real food waste problem. But companies need to get on board in order to change food establishment culture. They need to create less and slow down in order to adopt eco-friendly practices (nothing is quite as fast as throwing waste in the trash).
Ultimately, we need to get commercial food establishments to reduce the amount of food that they produce. But even when this paradigm shift occurs, there still needs to be an eco-friendly solution or method to help the commercial food industry reduce the amount of food waste that is sent to landfills—or nearly eliminate their food waste altogether.
And that’s where I come in. In my day-to-day job, I work with over 30 medium- to large-sized commercial food establishments to assist them in diverting their food waste from landfills. A largely unknown fact is that commercial food operations can generate anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds of food waste on a daily basis. And without a conscientious plan, much of the food waste in the commercial sector gets placed in garbage bags that get hauled off to the landfill, which doesn’t benefit anyone.
I actually have one client that literally generates over a ton of food waste every day.
When it comes to collecting smaller volumes of food waste, there is little doubt in my mind that composting is the best solution. But unfortunately, composting isn’t always practical for the commercial food environment. Composting on this level requires dozens of composting bins, a huge loading dock, and a cooling system to prevent rotting and attracting flies or other unwanted creatures. Then the bins need to be picked up by a commercial waste hauler. Because of these factors, many commercial food operations do not even attempt to compost.
It’s clear that commercial food waste presents a huge challenge. So what can be done?
A solution that I highly recommend for companies with large volumes of food waste is to utilize aerobic digestion machines. An aerobic digester works just like a human stomach, utilizing the same bacteria and enzymes that our own stomachs use to break down food. When food waste is loaded into an aerobic digestion machine, the bacteria and enzymes are automatically added, and will break down food waste in the machine until it transforms into water or teeny-tiny particles. Once this happens, all of the food waste that has been broken down will leave the digester through a fine screen (with .4 millimeter holes) at the bottom of the machine. Then all of the water and small food waste particles will leave via a drain in the facility and get sent to the wastewater treatment plant to be processed, filtered, and recycled back into new water.
It’s a crazy concept, but yes, food waste can be turned into water! But that’s not the only benefit of these machines.
Aerobic digesters eliminate the need for garbage trucks to pick up food waste and travel to commercial facilities, thus cutting down carbon emissions. Food waste also breaks down much faster in an aerobic digester than it does in the composting process, and files and other pests are virtually eliminated.
Unfortunately, aerobic digestion technology is not yet available for household use. The machines are big and expensive, and though they’re very energy efficient in larger environments, that efficiency won’t translate into home use. But even having technology like this is a big step toward an eco-friendly tomorrow. We all need to do our part and be activists for climate change, so keep on composting at home and know that exciting solutions like aerobic digestion technology are coming along to address climate change on a larger scale. The next time you’re dining out, ask where their food waste is going. We can change the world, but it’s going to take some work.
Photo via iStock
Michael Forman is a native of Bronx, New York, and has lived in New York City for almost his entire life. He is the executive farm director of Pure Love Organic Farms, an organic, urban farm that he and three other friends created in 2012 from a former garbage dump site. Michael also works as the North American account manager for Totally Green in the sustainable technologies field.