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Overlooked & Misunderstood: The Essential Role of Food Waste Disposers in Diverting Food Scraps from Landfills to Beneficial Use

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Awareness of global warming and climate change is intensifying focus on urban sustainability issues, and compelling the broad perspective necessary to address environmental impacts of municipal operations, as evidenced by the new initiative of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and New York City's PlaNYC2030. Municipal solid waste is one such challenge; the U.S. EPA estimates that nearly 30 million tons of food waste are landfilled annually, generating both leachate and methane gas as it decomposes. Following the lead of the European Union, some U.S. communities are testing various means of diverting organics from landfills, but often overlook the role that disposers have played for decades in doing so.

Three big ideas emerge from a more holistic view of food waste disposers.

The first is that food scraps are neither “solid” nor “waste”, but in fact are a “liquid resource” better managed via wastewater treatment plants than buried in landfills.

The second is that biosolids are equivalent to – or better than – compost, which means that wastewater treatment plants create quality fertilizer products from both human waste and food scraps. Although not without their controversies, biosolids also serve as a means of carbon sequestration, along with providing important nutrient replacement and erosion control for agricultural purposes, as well as land reclamation projects.

The third is that energy capture at wastewater treatment plants is vastly preferable to the generation and inefficient capture of methane by landfills.

In sum, the use of food waste disposers to manage food scraps should be viewed in a holistic manner that cuts across traditional boundaries between agencies that manage solid waste and wastewater, as well as those concerned with energy production.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2008-01-01

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