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Food Waste Problem: Can it be Turned Into Something Useful?

by | Apr 4, 2022 | Sustainability

Food waste is a growing problem in many parts of the world. As the world population is expected to grow to around 10 billion by 2050, global food demand will grow drastically and so do waste.

It is estimated that 1.3 billion tonnes of edibles are wasted each year. Which is one-third of the global food produced. This amounts to US$1 trillion dollars of wasted or lost food. This waste brings on with it lots of issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, unpleasant odors, insects and bacteria as well as decomposed nourishment release fluid that can pollute water sources.

The United States is the world’s largest consumer of food where as much as 30-40% of it is wasted and end up in landfill during processing. That’s about $161 billion worth of waste. This process of anaerobic decomposition produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to the destabilization of the climate. Food scraps produce up to 10% of the global greenhouse gas.

Methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and it is released into the atmosphere during rainfall. It also causes algal blooms in rivers and lakes which is a direct consequence of the food waste problem. Despite the staggering costs of waste, the problem has multiple causes and is not just limited to the consumer environment.

In addition, it also impacts the economy which costs governments around the world a lot in terms of dumps taking over more land and all kind of pollution which lead to health issues for citizens. To reduce the growing problem of food scraps, researchers are innovating new technologies that can turn into useful things.

Food waste is an abundant source of renewable energy. It is the best source of biogas for humans and the environment. It can be used in cooking, heating and fertilizing. The first step is to compost the organic junk. The breakdown of edibles and other organic materials can result in electricity, heat or gas. Some countries have already started to collect their kitchen waste and recycle it into biogas.

Photo by Del Barrett on Unsplash

Biomass gasification uses heat, oxygen, steam or a mixture of those to convert edibles and agricultural scrap into gases that can be used as fuel. The process of turning food waste into biogas is known as fluidization.  It converts the waste into high-valuable sources of energy called syngas. Syngas can be used to generate heat and power.

The gasification process turns scrap into gas in an eco-friendly way. The gases created from the process can be further converted into other bio-based chemicals such as methanol and ammonia. Biomass gasification also generates biochar, which can be used as a soil fertilizer.

Building methane digester facilities, can convert organic waste into methane and create electricity. It can produce enough electricity to power several homes. This process will be more efficient than incineration and requires less energy. And it will help the environment as well.

While the process of turning food waste into energy is still in its infancy, it is becoming more common in the UK. Local councils are providing food waste bins to help citizens dispose of them properly. Supermarkets have already committed to becoming zero-waste by 2025. The process of turning food scrap into biogas can create enough energy to power homes.

The conversion of household edible junk into biogas is a sustainable process that will divert food from landfills and other natural resources. The process of using food waste as biogas involves several steps but the end result is a renewable natural gas that can be used for heating or cooking.

There are many benefits to using this method, which include the reduction of landfill space and the creation of renewable natural gas. Moreover, the most commonly used foods are meat, dairy products and vegetables. These are the three most common types of waste. Besides generating energy, they can also be used as fertilizer.

blue tractor fertilizing crop field
Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

The UC Riverside researchers found that the best solution to the food waste problem is to prevent it before it reaches the consumer. In the U.S., the majority of nourishment is not destined for the trash. In California, researchers collect significant food waste sources and fermented them. And in a greenhouse, fermented waste is added to citrus plants. The fermentation process increased bacteria which produce compounds that are beneficial to plants.

More than enough food is produced to feed the global population however an estimated 811 million people still go hungry. World hunger is on the rise, affecting around 10% of the global population. At the same time, an estimated 125 to 160 billion pounds of nourishment is wasted every year, much of it perfectly edible and nutritious.

A simple solution to the food waste problem is to store edibles in the food bank. The leftovers can be transported to a facility and stored in the freezer until they are no longer edible. In addition to storing nourishment in a food bank, it also provides a simple solution for reducing the amount of edibles that are thrown away.

Using of fossil fuels has created an environmental crisis that has led to climate change. As governments around the world are trying to tackle climate change, alternative renewable sources of energy from agricultural and food junk can be a partial solution to the problem.

Governing bodies, cities and farms can use these sustainable techniques to cut utility expenses for heating or electricity. It can also significantly reduce dependency on landfills and lower expenses for solid waste management.

Finland, Brazil, Italy, Denmark and the United States are countries that are leading the way in developing sustainable biomass gasification projects and using food scraps. Policymakers need to support sustainable programs by providing financial aid, subsidies and tax incentives to these kinds of projects.

Hence these initiatives may encourage more individual companies to invest in biomass gasification technologies and develop them on a commercial scale to further sustain and tackle the food waste problem. Thus, it can bring countries on the right path to end the concerns about food scraps and at the same time help meet energy demands as well as move away from fossil fuel use.