Cosmopolitan Composting of Food Waste

food waste

Via: electrictreehouse_com

Composting is the process of taking food waste (including herbivorous animal manure) and turning it into a nutrient rich soil additive to support the growth of new plants. This process is not new. There is evidence that Romans, Greeks and the Tribes of Israel knew about compost. The Bible and Talmud both contain numerous references to the use of rotted manure straw, and organic references to compost are contained in tenth and twelfth century Arab writings, in medieval Church texts, and in Renaissance literature. Notable writers such as William Shakespeare, Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh all mentioned the use of compost.[1] Gardeners and organic farmers have been making compost for a very long time, and will probably continue to do so as long as gardeners garden.

In recent years farmers have tended to turn to chemical fertilizers as an alternative to compost because it is easier and faster to apply and available in the quantities needed for the very large farms of today.

Many – perhaps most – cities these days have recycling programs for paper, plastic and aluminum, but most cities do not have a plan for dealing with food waste other than hauling it to the landfill.  

Bob Schaffer, a soil scientist at composting advocacy group Soil Culture Consulting said that about 35 percent of food in the United States is thrown into a landfill rather than being physically consumed. “The problem [for the farmer] now is we don’t have enough compost at all, the farmer now realizes he needs organic matter.” [2] Spraying the ground with chemicals is not a viable, long term solution.

Large cities are hauling tons of food waste to a landfill every day, farmers need organic matter for their farms. The solution: composting programs for cosmopolitan areas. This is done a little differently than a garden composting bin. To control the composting environment and extract the methane gas produced as the biosolids break down, co-composting is done in massive sealed buildings. One such is the Edmonton Composting Facility in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, which turns 220,000 tons of residential solid waste and 22,500 dry tons of biosolids per year into 80,000 tons of compost. The facility is 416,500 square feet in size, equivalent to 4½ Canadian football fields, and the operating structure is the largest stainless steel building in North America, the size of 14 NHL rinks.[4]

San Francisco has an urban curbside compost collection program and provides bins for every property in the city to collect yard trimmings and food scraps from restaurants and homes. As is the case in many other areas, the material is brought to a facility and turned into organic matter that is redistributed as fertilizer to local farms.

Compost “is one of California’s keys to tackle drought because it acts as a natural sponge,” Schafer said. With its current recycling programs, some neighborhoods have a recovery rate of 90 percent, while the city as a whole hopes to achieve zero waste by 2020.

Further north, Seattle aims to increase its recycling rate from 56.2 percent to 70 percent by 2022, reports Timothy Croll, solid waste director for the city of Seattle. He added that a new regulation that starts on Jan. 1 2015 will require all food waste to be composted, and he hopes to see it help the city reach a goal of 60 percent recycling next year.

On the East Coast, New York City Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia agreed that “the frontier right now is around organic waste.”

The Big Apple lags behind its West Coast counterparts. The nation’s biggest city rolled out a pilot composting program in June of 2014 for 100,000 households. Garcia said the amount of garbage has decreased in those areas. [2]

Food waste occurs not just in homes. Restaurants toss out large amounts of food, some of it comes back on customers plates, some of it is what was left at the end of the day and cannot be stored for other use because of health regulations. A few businesses have policies to donate the edible food to shelters or soup kitchens for immediate consumption, but most just toss it.

Food production and transportation systems also create a good deal of food waste in the way of spillage, spoilage and by-products.

As more small cities switch from single municipality landfills to cooperative singe stream waste management systems, it should become more feasible for these cities to initiate the recycling of food waste into compost which is then sold to farmers, nurseries and gardeners. Removing this waste stream produces added income, reduces bulk in the landfill and makes better use of a previously wasted commodity.

Some Interesting Food Waste Facts

  • According to an August 2012 report by the National Resources Defense Council, the average American tosses about 25 percent of food and beverages purchased. For a family of four, the money wasted could total from $1,365 to $2,275.[5]
  • Each year, Americans produce 33 million tons of food waste.[7]
  • In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions.
  • In the USA, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted (including during processing and transportation), equaling more than 20 pounds of food waste per person per month. [6]

Resources:

1 – http://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/history.cfm
2 – http://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/are-you-gonna-eat-future-recycling-n273771
3 – http://www.carryoncomposting.com/142941469
4 – http://www.edmonton.ca/for_residents/garbage_recycling/edmonton-composting-facility.aspx
5 – http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2013/04/02/how-much-food-does-the-average-american-waste
6 – http://www.rona.unep.org/documents/news/RONA%20Food%20Waste%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
7 – http://www.npr.org/2012/09/21/161551772/the-ugly-truth-about-food-waste-in-america

 


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