« BackNews: How Science Is Helping To Solve The Food Waste Crisis
How Science Is Helping To Solve The Food Waste Crisis
A few pieces of badly bruised fruit here, and a couple of uneaten sides at a restaurant there might not seem like much, but it very quickly adds up, and according to the United Nations Environment Program, almost one billion tonnes of waste food is produced per year globally.
Once in a landfill, food produces the potent and harmful greenhouse gas methane. Food waste alone is estimated to account for around 8 per cent of human-related greenhouse gas emissions globally, even more than the airline industry.
Aside from the detrimental impact it has on the environment, there is also the consideration that uneaten and inedible food is still viable resources that could be utilised much better.
Thankfully, this is starting to change as new technologies are developed that both mitigate the harmful effects of food waste, as well as maximising its usefulness.
Biogas through anaerobic digestion
Creating biofuel from biological waste is a rapidly growing and efficient easy for local authorities and facilities to handle mixed food waste and leftover fats, oils, and grease.
Anaerobic digestion technology takes biological waste that’s fed into a tank, where it is digested by acidogenic bacteria and other anaerobic microorganisms. This in turn produces methane and carbon dioxide, which are captured and either used as fuel or processed into biomethane.
This method of energy production has a far smaller carbon footprint than fossil fuels or biogas produced from purpose-grown crops, and the leftover digestive at the end of the process can be used as a nutrient-rich fertiliser.
Anaerobic digestion technology is used throughout the world, and according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, there are over 200 facilities processing food waste into biogas in the US, using mainly industrial and foodservice waste.
Closed-loop commercial composting
The concept of a closed-loop system is not a new one, but the development of small-scale composters, where food waste is composted and the resulting soil is used to grow new food, has made it possible for any size facility to introduce the system to their operations.
This can also mean that waster food has fewer road miles to travel before being turned into useful material, further cutting back on emissions from logistics solutions.
Commercial composting machines typically work with aerobic decomposition. Food waste is added to the device, where it is automatically mixed with a base material containing heat-resistant microbes.
The contents are brought to a high temperature and constantly agitated to speed up the process and prevent the production of methane. The process is highly efficient, and the soil is ready for use in just 24 hours.
Such composting devices are being used everywhere, from world-famous restaurants to universities, in closed-loop systems where compost is used to grow food once again.
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