Food Waste Management Scenario

Food waste is an untapped energy source that mostly ends up rotting in landfills, thereby releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Food waste is difficult to treat or recycle since it contains high levels of sodium salt and moisture, and is mixed with other waste during collection. Major generators of food wastes include hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, residential blocks, cafeterias, airline caterers, food processing industries, etc.

In United States, food waste is the third largest waste stream after paper and yard waste. Around 12.7 percent of the total municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in the year 2008 was food scraps that amounted to about 32 million tons. According to EPA, about 31 million tons of food waste was thrown away into landfills or incinerators in 2008. As far as United Kingdom is concerned, households throw away 8.3 million tons of food each year. These statistics are an indication of tremendous amount of food waste generated all over the world.

The proportion of food waste in municipal waste stream is gradually increasing and hence a proper food waste management strategy needs to be devised to ensure its eco-friendly and sustainable disposal. Food waste can be recycled via:

  • Composting: A treatment that breaks down biodegradable waste by naturally occurring micro-organisms with oxygen, in an enclosed vessel or tunnel;
  • Anaerobic digestion or Biomethanation: A treatment that breaks down biodegradable waste in the absence of oxygen, producing a renewable energy (biogas) that can be used to generate electricity and heat.

Currently, only about 3 percent of food waste is recycled throughout U.S., mainly through composting. Composting provides an alternative to landfill disposal of food waste, however it requires large areas of land, produces volatile organic compounds and consumes energy. Consequently, there is an urgent need to explore better recycling alternatives. Anaerobic digestion has been successfully used in several European and Asian countries to stabilize food wastes, and to provide beneficial end-products. Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Germany and England have led the way in developing new advanced biogas technologies and setting up new projects for conversion of food waste into energy.

Of the different types of organic wastes available, food waste holds the highest potential in terms of economic exploitation as it contains high amount of carbon and can be efficiently converted into biogas and organic fertilizer. Food waste can either be used as a single substrate in a biogas plant, or can be co-digested with organic wastes like cow manure, poultry litter, sewage, crop residues, abattoir wastes, etc.

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Salman Zafar is a renowned consultant, advisor, entrepreneur and writer with expertise in waste management, biomass energy, waste-to-energy, environment protection and resource conservation. He is the Founder of Cleantech Solutions, in addition to being the CEO of India-based BioEnergy Consult, and Founder of Doha-based EcoMENA. Salman has successfully accomplished a wide range of projects in the areas of biogas technology, biomass energy, waste-to-energy and waste management. He has participated in numerous national and international conferences and has authored many articles in reputed journals and magazines. He is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management and environmental sustainability. Salman can be reached at salman@bioenergyconsult.com or salman@cleantechloops.com.

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3 thoughts on “Food Waste Management Scenario

  1. Dear all,
    The creation of biodigestors for house-hold process, is a reality in many countries in Asia. In Europe, UK, they are working at many universities for searching the better way to use the food waste together with other kind of wastes to feed a biodigestor for releasing CH4 for producing energy. Another possibility is use human dejects as source of waste to feed the biodigestor, but we don t know if this can be togetjer or separatly of the food waste from houses.

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