(UR) Massachusetts — Composting and source reduction of food waste are key to stopping the 130 billion pounds of food that are lost every year, but there’s another novel approach to America’s habit of tossing out perfectly good grinds while many still go hungry — and it creates a commodity out of waste.
A Massachusetts grocer is using food waste to create electricity with a first-of-its kind project in twenty years.
Blue Sphere Corp., an Israel-based company, broke ground on a 5.2-megawatt (MW) facility in Charlotte, where it maintains its U.S. headquarters. It is the first facility to be opened in the country, with another in development. Another waste-to-electricity plant will soon open in in Rhode Island, also.
Differing from larger incinerators that must burn waste directly in order to create energy, Blue Sphere Waste-to-Energy (WTE) plants create energy from methane. The gas is collected and then sold to local utility companies who sign long-term agreements. From there the methane is burned to produce electricity.
As residential housing competes with landfill space, causing the cost of land to rise, more companies are having to look at new ways to handle their waste. Since WTEs typically reduce waste volumes by as much as 90 percent, they can compete with some of the other waste-reducing methods we should all be practicing — such as composting kitchen scraps and grass clippings, simply reducing food waste by not over-purchasing, or making sure that our leftovers or ‘extra’ food goes to those in need at local food pantries or soup kitchens.
It is important to note that currently our landfills in this country are spewing methane anyhow, but in the form of greenhouse gases. A WTE plant simply captures the methane and re-uses it for electricity, instead of letting it go to waste.
Some local governments, as in New England, have banned landfills, making WTEs a more viable option.
Of course, there are zero-waste examples we can look to as well.
Kamikatsu, Japan, is a town where there would never be a trash heap to begin with. They separate every single bit of trash and either reuse or recycle it appropriately — using 34 different categories for their trash. Though a WTE can turn a banana peel into electricity, it still involves an expensive process that still creates more waste, albeit reducing landfill-destined trash to a large degree; but in Kamikatsu, that banana peel would become organic compost for a garden.
Kamikatsu took twelve years to become zero waste, but with a concerted effort, we all could do the same. In the meantime, a WTE at least makes something we need from all that wasted food — energy.
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