Turning food waste into energy | News


A note on the wall of a local pizza establishment stated that all food waste from the restaurant would be recycled into energy. Turning food waste into energy is a major movement as landfills look to reduce the amount of methane-generating material dumped at their sites and the state moves to reduce solid waste.

Restaurant and food production facilities are now mandated by MassDEP to recycle or compost their food waste in establishments that generate a half ton or more of compostable food waste per week.

Grocers, restaurants, universities and schools all generate hundreds of thousands of pounds of food waste. This material can be turned into energy through the use of anaerobic digesters, or good, reusable soil through composting facilities.

Anaerobic digestion facilities, or ADs, are facilities that use a digester to facilitate the breakdown of plant or food material using microorganisms in an oxygen-free environment. The product that is created through this process is biogas which can be used as a natural gas product to power vehicles or homes.

Additionally, the material that is left behind is known as digestate, and can be used as fertilizer or bedding for livestock, according to the EPA.

On the residential side, both Tewksbury and Wilmington sell compost bins for people to recycle their own food waste. Garden composting is an environmentally friendly way to reduce food waste, but should be limited to plant material such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells, newspaper, and leaves and grass clippings.

Meat, fats such as cheese, or oils are discouraged as they can attract rodents and unwanted pests to your property. However, rich soil awaits those who compost at home, providing a way to return the materials to the earth to be reused in planter beds and gardens.

Another option if space is limited or home composting is not desired is the use of curbside composting services. Organizations such as OffBeet Composting in the Merrimack Valley will give subscribers a container to collect food scraps, then pick them up or have customers drop them off.

While there is a fee for this service, beautiful compost is delivered twice a year to customers for their own gardens if requested, and food waste is eliminated from the general waste stream.

Some Massachusetts communities, such as Rockport, Gloucester, and Manchester have had curbside compost collection programs through a third-party collector for over five years, helping to reduce the solid waste collected. Towns save money when they divert waste from landfills.

Residents opt into the service and pay directly to the provider. Newburyport has two providers for residents to contract with. Other north shore communities such as Beverly and Ipswich are also participating.

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