Extracting Value From Organics

Organic materials, much of which are discarded food and yard trimmings, comprise approximately 40 percent of the U.S. waste stream – and Waste Management is a leader in leveraging new technologies to extract economic and environmental value from these materials.

Making more productive use of food waste is an area of particular focus not only for us, but also for a growing number of stakeholders: consumers, businesses, municipalities and regulators. Why the increasing emphasis? The opportunity is substantial, and the payoff can be significant. More than 14 percent of the material found in our trash bins today is food, yet U.S. EPA reported that in 2013 less than 3 percent of food waste was diverted from landfill. No wonder, then, that food waste, and strategies for its productive diversion, draws more recent attention than any other component of the waste stream except plastic.

It is clear that too much food is wasted at every phase of its life cycle. In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council has estimated that 40 percent of the food grown in the U.S. is never consumed. Though many solutions focus on reducing waste upstream – in manufacturing, distribution and through donation of excess product to food banks – the largest portion of unused food ends up as food waste. There are many reasons for the growing interest in alternative solutions for managing this residual waste, in particular:

  • Food waste recycling boosts recycling goals. As the recycling of paper and containers has increased, organics, when combined with unrecyclable paper, constitute the largest portion of the waste stream. And because this material is relatively heavy, improved processes can increase diversion percentages significantly.
  • Food waste recycling reduces methane from landfills. The initial decomposition of food waste in landfills contributes to methane emissions. By diverting food to beneficial uses like composting and anaerobic digestion, the majority of emissions associated with initial decomposition can be negated, reducing landfill emissions.
  • The energy contained in food waste can be converted to fuel and other valuable commodities via anaerobic digestion. New technologies are being developed to convert this material to fuels such as biogas, ethanol, methanol, diesel and jet fuel.

The Organic Cycle

Diverse Organic Solutions, Broad Capabilities

In 2015 Waste Management processed 2.47 million tons of source-separated organic materials, including yard trimmings, food waste and biosolids – sludge sourced from wastewater treatment facilities. Most of the organic waste we collect goes to facilities that create marketable compost and soil amendment products. Composting remains a proven, low-cost solution for managing large volumes of organic materials. Our portfolio includes 43 organics processing facilities, 40 of which have composting capability.

In addition to composting, our embrace of innovation has enabled us to create a patented centralized organics recycling process that allows organics to be digested to create biogas that can, in turn, be converted into fuel or electricity. With CORe®, we collect commercial food waste from restaurants, schools, food processing plants and grocery stores, screen it to remove contaminants such as plastic, packaging and bones, and blend the waste into an engineered slurry that has a consistency similar to cooked oatmeal. The slurry dramatically increases the production of biogas in anaerobic digesters, which is used to create renewable energy. Adding just 7 percent additional organic material in the form of engineered slurry to a water treatment plant’s anaerobic digesters can increase energy output by more than 70 percent. After initially piloting the CORe® process in New York City and Orange County, California, we built out full-scale commercial facilities at both sites and will open our third commercial plant in Boston in Fall 2016.

Organics Recycling Sites

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Arkansas

  • 1. Springdale

California

  • 2. Novato
  • 3. Chico
  • 4. Simi Valley

Colorado

  • 5. Pueblo
  • 6. Aurora
  • 7. Deer Trail

Connecticut

  • 8. New Milford

Florida

  • 9. Apopka
  • 10. Okeechobee

Georgia

  • 11. Hogansville
  • 12. Cumming

Illinois

  • 13. DeKalb
  • 14. Chicago
  • 15. St. Louis
  • 16. Peoria
  • 17. Taylorville

Kansas

  • 18. Topeka

Kentucky

  • 19. Louisville

Massachusetts

  • 20. Chicopee
  • 21. Westminster
  • 22. Agawam

Michigan

  • 23. Zeeland Charter Township
  • 24. Lennon

New York

  • 25. Fairport
  • 26. Brooklyn

North Carolina

  • 27. Harrisburg

Ohio

  • 28. Charleston
  • 29. Northwood

Pennsylvania

  • 30. Erie
  • 31. South Park Township
  • 32. Irwin
  • 33. Tullytown
  • 34. West Sundbury

Tennessee

  • 35. Decaturville

Texas

  • 36. Alvin
  • 37. Pasadena

Virginia

  • 38. Glenns

Wisconsin

  • 39. Menomonee Falls
  • 40. Bristol
  • 41. Weyerhaeuser
  • 42. Franklin

Ontario, CN

  • 43. Hamilton

A Higher Level of Stakeholder Engagement

While our core competencies center on productive processing of waste food at end of life, we continue to work with a broad range of stakeholders on holistic solutions to address the challenge of reducing food waste at every phase of its life cycle. In 2015 we partnered in several important national efforts around food waste. These included providing advisory services to ReFED – a Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent. This valuable study assessed the entire value chain from production through end of life and identified specific strategies to cut food waste nationally by 20 percent, saving up to 18 million tons of GHG emissions annually. In 2015 we also participated in the U.S. EPA/Southeast Recycling Development Council’s Food Recovery Summit, which convened participants from throughout the value chain to devise strategies to reduce food waste. This effort included pledging to expand our efforts to help reduce and recover wasted food. And our own Spectrum Project was undertaken to perform a detailed analysis of the GHG emissions associated with recycling, yard waste composting and the anaerobic digestion of food waste.

An Evolving Regulatory Landscape

Statutory requirements and municipal ordinances regulating the disposal of food waste are important drivers of the expansion of successful organics diversion programs. Once in place, these requirements create the conditions to dramatically increase the diversion of organic material. Food waste regulations in the Vancouver Metro area of British Columbia have led to significant growth in diversion efforts in the region. For example, in the City of New Westminster, a Vancouver suburb, we have worked closely with city officials to provide a comprehensive food waste collection program in the community’s more than 500 multifamily residential complexes, as well as single-family residences. The program included extensive educational efforts for residents and specialized containers and collection programs. In the first year alone, the program diverted nearly 1,000 tons of organic materials from landfill. As increasing numbers of cities take action on their own, we stand ready to work in partnership with local stakeholders to continue to expand organics diversion.

Organic Waste At-A-Glance

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U.S. Waste Stream

  • 28%

    food and yard waste combined makes up the largest portion of today’s waste stream
  • 40%

    of food grown in the U.S. is
    never consumed
  • <3%

    of food waste is
    diverted from landfill

Waste Management

2.47
million tons

of source separated organic materials processed in 2015

43 organics

processing facilities, including 40 compost facilities

700,000

residential households participate in food waste collection, many on the West Coast where policies include food waste diversion

1,000s

of commercial customers separate their food waste for collection

8,000 tons

of food waste converted to renewable fuel using CORe® technology in 2015