The Staggering Impacts of Food Waste

And the power of anaerobic digestion in sustainability.

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Food waste poses one of the biggest threats to global sustainability. Nearly one-third of all food produced globally gets wasted, resulting in tremendous environmental, social and economic consequences. Significant food waste has huge environmental impacts when sent to landfills to rot. The greenhouse gasses emitted accelerate climate change, and precious resources like water, land, and energy used to grow food are wasted.

The Staggering Impacts of Food Waste

Globally, more than 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted annually across the supply chain from farm to fork. Food loss occurs across all stages, but its environmental impact increases further along the supply chain. Waste occurs when edible food is intentionally discarded after spoiling, passing expiration dates or simply being unused. Overproduction and rejection of food that doesn't meet aesthetic standards also contribute significantly to waste. In the United States alone, up to 40% of the food supply goes uneaten, equivalent to $444 billion in yearly waste.

Landfilling this enormous amount of organic waste has massive environmental impacts. Food waste decomposing in landfills generates methane, a greenhouse gas over 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the U.S., releasing the equivalent of emissions from nearly 23.1 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year.

Wasting food also squanders resources, including land, water, labor, and energy used to produce it. Agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater usage globally, most of which is wasted when food is discarded. Around 3.4 million acres of farmland, nearly one-third of total agricultural land, is used to grow wasted food. With climate change and population growth tightening resource constraints, reducing food waste is critical for a sustainable future.

How Anaerobic Digestion Eliminates Food Waste

Of the various solutions to mitigate the impacts of food waste, anaerobic digestion (AD) stands out as the most effective and environmentally sound approach. This advanced and efficient technology uses natural biological processes to convert organic waste into renewable energy and nutrients: biogas and digestate. The biogas produced through anaerobic digestion can replace fossil fuels for applications like heating and power generation.

Additionally, the nutrient-rich digestate produced serves as an organic soil amendment to cultivate new crops and contains essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that would have otherwise been lost. Using digestate as a soil conditioner to grow new food closes the loop and creates a regenerative system within the food cycle. 

Specialized anaerobic digesters allow large volumes of food waste to be processed in a completely enclosed system, preventing potent greenhouse gasses like methane from escaping into the atmosphere. The circular nature of anaerobic digestion maximizes resource recovery from food waste, embodying principles of the circular economy and making it the premier waste management solution for tackling food waste sustainably.

Accelerating the Adoption of Anaerobic Digestion

Although harnessing anaerobic digestion for renewable energy is a more recent development in North America, this technology has been successfully used at facilities around the globe for decades to transform organic waste into sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels. Recent technological innovations, policy developments, and private investments are rapidly accelerating its implementation in the U.S.

Favorable regulatory shifts are propelling the adoption of AD — the high costs of landfilling and the public's desire for sustainability drive local governments to seek organics recycling alternatives. Many municipalities have enacted strong policy incentives including renewable energy targets, subsidies for AD facilities, and organic waste disposal bans to encourage investment.

In response, the private sector is responding to these trends. Innovative companies specializing in organics recycling are partnering with communities to build state-of-the-art anaerobic digestion infrastructure. These facilities help process food waste at scale while producing renewable natural gas for municipalities. Scaling up anaerobic digestion capacity requires collective efforts across research, policy, public engagement, and private capital. But with rising momentum on these fronts, the US is primed to unlock the immense potential of AD to redirect food waste while generating clean, renewable energy sustainably. 

A Circular & Sustainable Model

Anaerobic digestion presents an innovative and pragmatic solution for redirecting food waste from landfills. The technology can mitigate potent methane emissions and displace fossil fuel usage by using enclosed digesters to convert organics into renewable biogas energy and nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Adopting anaerobic digestion could transform America's energy and agricultural systems in a sustainable direction. This revolutionary organic waste conversion approach will open new avenues for renewable power while restoring environmental vitality. With collective commitment amongst private and public stakeholders, anaerobic digestion's capacity to extract value from food waste will enable significant progress towards a circular economy. By leveraging anaerobic digestion to prevent food waste, America can chart a more sustainable future.

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