Published On: Wed, Jul 4th, 2018

Could the Key to Getting Food Waste Under Control Be Found in the Kitchen Sink?

As summer 2018 is in full swing, complete with lots of backyard cookouts, family vacations and opportunities to enjoy cooking and dining with family and friends, it is logical that there will be lots of extra food going to waste, along with extra garbage. Food waste remains a major issue in the United States as approximately $218 billion worth of food is thrown out each year. Moreover, 21 percent of landfill volume is occupied by food waste, according to Feeding America.

photo/ H. Hach

While the United States currently does not have a single baseline estimate of food loss and waste, it assesses food and waste loss based on two measurements. The first, which is the EPA estimate, determined in 2010 that about 218.9 pounds of food waste per person were sent for disposal. The EPA states that the goal for reduction of waste by 2030 should be to decrease waste to 109.4 pounds per person.

The second measurement is based on data from the USDA which determined that as of 2010 the amount of food loss and waste was 31 percent of the food supply, equaling 133 billion pounds and almost $162 billion. While later statistics are not available, it is almost certain that the amount of waste has increased over the last eight years both nationally and globally.

Solutions to the problem which have been brought forward by industry experts include using advances in technology to limit and change the way organic waste is treated. Interestingly, not too many years ago, technology was actually a forbidden method of dealing with food waste as it was thought to actually contribute to the problem. In the 1970s, garbage disposals were banned in New York City due to concerns over the sewer systems being unable to handle the discharge as well as the seeping of raw organic refuse into nearby bodies of water.

Photo/Nathan Bevier, U.S. Air Force via wikicommons

There were more concerns over increased use of water. While disposals do not work without water, they actually  don’t use that much water. It’s estimated that only up to 1% of the water consumed by a household is consumed solely by a garbage disposal unit. As it turns out, although high quality garbage disposal units use both water and electricity, can be extremely environmentally friendly.

In terms of energy use, it’s estimated that about 13% of the solid waste that gets sent to landfills in the United States each year is made out of food scraps. This adds up to more than 30 million tons of food waste that, when when it decomposes, produces methane gasses that contribute to global warming and air pollution. Furthermore, when the garbage reaches the landfills, it is eventually incinerated which leads to even more harmful emissions into the air

By contrast, the waste that results from garbage disposal units is between 70 to 90 percent water. The waste water can be cleaned at special treatment facilities that are equipped with technology to capture the methane gas generated by decomposition of organic matter, thereby turning it into fuel. So, by throwing the food waste down the drain a significant amount of methane emissions are eliminated, while alternative renewable energy is also produced.

Additionally, the specialized water treatment facilities are often equipped with technology that can separate the biosolids from the waste water that arrives in the plantm, via a process of filtration. What results is ‘treated sludge’ which can be sold to and used by farmers as a better, safer and nutritionally superior fertilizer than the chemical varieties that are on the market.

In the case of New York City and the garbage disposal ban, after a series of studies were conducted by the Department of Environmental Protection, it was determined that the city could save approximately $4 annually by permitting the use of garbage disposals. Additionally, it was demonstrated that their use was accompanied by significant ecological benefits, leading to garbage disposals becoming legal again in the 90’s.

In general, by 2018, and based on all the available data amassed over the years, it has been well established that using garbage disposal units is a smart move. – for the  environment and for basic convenience. The devices, after all, are easy to install, simple to use, don’t require much maintenance, last a long time, use minimal water, can help create reusable energy, increase sanitation in the home while reducing odors, limit the use of trash bags, and very importantly, are no longer the noisy machines they once were.

Author: Jacob Maslow

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