In the U.S. alone, more than 75 billion pounds of food is wasted each year, and displaced food carries a price tag of well over $161 billion. The U.S. EPA estimates that more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash, making up 24% of the disposed waste stream. And when factoring in the energy used to grow, process and ship food, as well as the emissions released when it decomposes, food waste adds billions of tons of GHG emissions to the atmosphere.
While the concept of a circular economy is most often applied to manufactured goods, it also applies to organics, including food. The benefits of managing food and yard waste at end of life are significant—and businesses and governments are taking action. In California, SB 1383 aims to divert the majority of organic waste from landfills and increase the recovery of edible food for people in need by 2025.
Where possible, WM helps prevent food from being wasted and encourages its redistribution through local food donation programs. For other organic material, we continue to invest in new or expanded programs for handling at end of life. Although the pandemic significantly slowed or halted food waste programs and municipal project development related to organic waste, WM continued to invest in new organics processing capabilities to meet our customers’ needs.
- 33 Compost/Mulch
- 5 Wood Waste
- 4 CORe®
- 42 Total
Preventing food waste upstream benefits the environment in terms of emissions reduction and helps communities in need by providing nutrition that would otherwise go unused. When possible, WM works with companies and municipalities to donate unused food to food banks before it gets thrown away. Throughout the pandemic, we also stepped up our efforts to address food insecurity through our Million Meals match campaign, our A Can if You Can program, as well as dozens of events supporting local communities across the country.
Turning Food Waste into Energy
Food that is no longer suitable for human or animal consumption can become a source of renewable energy. Through CORe®, WM’s proprietary organics recycling process, food waste from residential, commercial and industrial sources such as grocery stores, municipalities, schools, event spaces and food manufacturing is collected and screened to remove contaminants, such as plastic and packaging, before it is blended into an engineered slurry. The slurry is injected into treatment facility digesters in existing wastewater treatment infrastructure. This process increases the biogas produced by the digester by as much as 200% without notably increasing its residual digestate. This gas can then be used as a renewable power source, enabling municipal customers to produce heat and power from their own food waste. Due to the pandemic, many municipalities temporarily suspended their residential organics services. While this affected WM’s CORe® facilities in 2020, we are beginning to see a resurgence of these programs in 2021.
Another example of food waste being converted to energy is at WM’s Sun Valley Recycling Park in Los Angeles, which includes a municipal solid waste (MSW) transfer station and a MRF with organics processing capabilities. There, WM partners with Anaergia, a company that has developed a process for separating food and other organics from nondigestible material collected from commercial and multifamily facilities. After an extrusion process, the “wet fraction” is transported to a digester where it can be converted into renewable energy and fertilizer products, including renewable natural gas. Meanwhile, leftover solids will be recycled, and Anaergia is planning to use a process called pyrolysis, where these solids are dried and broken down under high heat. The resulting material is biochar, which can be used in agricultural applications. The Sun Valley facility can extract up to 450 tons of organic waste every day.