Food processing and food manufacturing facilities are a critical part of the U.S. economy so it makes sense that their commitment to reducing waste is critical to building a greener, healthier society. Unfortunately, many in the food industry remain unaware of the opportunities available to reduce waste and save money. In fact, substantially cutting waste by diverting it to productive uses is very achievable.
The impact of food waste really cannot be overstated. Consider this: landfills are the biggest source of methane emissions, and methane is one of the most dangerous and harmful gases that contribute to climate change. In fact, methane is 23 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Unfortunately for food processors and food manufacturers, in the U.S., organic waste is the second highest component of landfills.
According to a study issued by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, 4.1 billion pounds of food waste were sent to landfills in 2011, just 8.5 percent of the 48.1 billion pounds of food waste generated by the manufacturing, retail and wholesale sectors. The biggest culprit in industrial bakeries is the wrapping machine, which accounts for 70% of the waste from those facilities.
Sustainable waste management makes good environmental and business sense. Of course, the highest – or best – use of food products is to use them as they were intended to be used: as food. Failing that, the next highest use would be as feed for animals. After feed, compost would be the highest use. Landfill is the last option, or, in stark layman’s terms, the last resort. Using on-site organic waste processing technologies and implementing a recycling program allows companies to achieve a significant waste diversion.
The benefits to the food industry of reducing food waste are:
- Ends wasting large quantities of recyclable raw ingredients.
- Improves profitability
- Reduces waste disposal fees.
- Markets the establishment as environmentally conscious.
- Helps close the food waste loop.
- Reduces the need for more landfill space.
Food manufacturers and food processors that get on board save themselves money and come out as heroes to consumers. Not bad.
The high cost of commercial organics collection can be reduced through the development of localized organic waste processing capacity. Organic waste can be disposed and collected separately and sent to a compost facility for conversion to compost, or anaerobic digester for conversion to renewable energy. This would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from commercial waste and provide fertilizer and clean, renewable energy.
It’s possible to keep food waste out of landfills. Diverting food waste to other, more valuable uses is the answer. The industry must work continuously to decrease the amount of food waste sent to landfills, in order to reduce the expenditures of waste disposal and help meet corporate sustainability expectations. And when companies are able to find innovative ways to put their waste to work, profits go up.