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What I learned today on was how to turn organic waste into energy.

Waste Not Want Not

Here’s what I know…

Why Waste=Fuel?

Current waste management practices in New York City are environmentally and economically unsustainable. Every year, the city landfills over 7 million tons of food and other organic wastes. According to the EPA, this biodegradable waste discharges over 1.8 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The collection of this waste requires hundreds of diesel trucks, which both damage the city’s transportation infrastructure and further pollute the environment. In addition to these environmental costs, the financial expenditure of waste collection exceeds 1 billion dollars per year.

What is Anaerobic Digestion?
In a controlled, oxygen-free environment, naturally occurring anaerobic bacteria break down matter and produce energy-rich biogas (over 60% methane), which can be used to generate renewable energy or to power clean fuel vehicles. Anaerobic treatment has proven effective with a wide variety of organic wastes, including agricultural waste (animal manure), municipal solid waste (food and yard waste) and wastewater (sewage sludge, industrial sludge, and food processing waste).

Having recognized the environmental and economic impact of food and other organic waste, some governments —most notably those of the European Union, Japan, and Australia—have imposed restrictions and landfill taxes on garbage disposal to divert waste from landfills. These restrictions, in addition to government incentives, have led to the installation of hundreds of Anaerobic Digestion (AD) facilities that divert biodegradable waste from landfills, generate renewable energy, and mitigate the release of greenhouse gases. Over 125 European AD facilities produce more than 300 Megawatts of electricity (enough to supply 300,000 households), divert millions of tons of food waste from landfills each year, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Benefits of Anaerobic Digestion:

  • Substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions, odor and other pollutants from food and other organic wastes.
  • Is a source of renewable energy: 1 ton of organic waste can generate over200 kWh of electricity—a day’s supply for 10 average U.S. households.
  • Creates a pathogen-free, humus-like fertilizer, superior to chemical fertilizers.
  • Reduces food waste volume.
  • Is compact and sanitary, and can be used in urban areas.
  • Employs a proven technology, with several facilities in operation since the late 1970s and close to one hundred more that have been constructed since the early 1990s.
  • Diverts municipal wastes from landfills, reducing the amount of fuel used and pollution generated by waste transportation.
  • Enables communities to recycle and reuse waste locally.

Initiative Information

Earth Pledge’s Waste=Fuel initiative aims to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions produced by urban, rural, and commercial organic waste, while supporting the development of a new source of renewable energy.

Waste=Fuel Objectives
Waste=Fuel proposes the use of AD technology to combat air and groundwater pollution, improve solid waste management, and reduce energy consumption. By promoting the use of AD—a sustainable waste management technology—to a range of audiences, and spearheading a variety of pilot projects, we aim to position AD as a viable and popular alternative to conventional food waste disposals methods.
Our objectives:
•Demonstrate the environmental and social benefits of AD application to our private and public sector communities.
•Encourage the adoption of AD technology by large-scale producers of organic waste.
•Work with cities and municipalities to create incentives around the adoption of AD.
•Use AD to divert 7 million tons of organic waste annually in New York City, generating significant 1.4 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, and preventing the release of 3.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

Digesters in the Private Sector implementation
With input from engineers, we are advising companies on the installation of an AD facilities at their locations. We are focusing these feasibility studies on companies that handle large volumes of organic waste, such as food wholesalers, compost farmers and restaurants. These facilities have the potential to divert a large fraction of their waste from landfill and provide energy in the form of heat or electricity as well as a compost material. In the process, these companies will improve their environmental portfolios by achieving greenhouse gas reductions.

Target Audience
Waste=Fuel Initiative reaches stakeholders in the food, waste, and energy industries. In particular, this initiative targets the hospitality industry, solid waste industry, energy suppliers, renewable energy investors, natural gas vehicle developers, academic institutions, and federal, state, and local agencies.

Waste=Fuel Resources and Links

General Information About Anaerobic Digestion:

ATLAS Project
The ATLAS Project, a European research initiative on energy technologies, details the history, uses, and benefits of anaerobic digestion. The website also notes the existing barriers to widespread implementation.

Biogas Works

An excellent introduction to the process of anaerobic digestion.

California Energy Commission
This site is an excellent source of information on energy issues facing California. The research & development section of the site discusses a number of innovative energy efficient technologies that are being explored for California, including anaerobic digestion.

Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
This site explains the significance of methane, its cultivation and its uses.

University of Southampton
The University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, UK, offers extensive information on anaerobic digestion systems with illustrative diagrams.

Related Publications:

Biocycle Magazine

This journal about composting and organics recycling has a particular focus on cutting-edge waste management technologies including anaerobic digestion.

Environmental Business Journal
A publication that provides a strategic overview and an independent perspective on the different segments of and issues within the environmental business community.

Solid Waste Digest
A monthly newsletter providing the industry with strategic market information, data, and analysis on issues such as waste disposal pricing.

Waste News
Waste News reports on waste management, hazardous waste disposal, landfilling, waste generation and reduction, and recycling.

Waste not, want not. :)



Approximately 800 million people today live with chronic hunger, and 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes every day. Yet the world cycles nearly 43 percent of all the grain that is harvested through animals to produce meat. To get a feedlot steer to gain a pound, you need 7 pounds of corn. Likewise, additional pounds of pig, chicken, and farmed fish will cost you, respectively, 3.5, 2, and 3 pounds in feed. Of course, large portions of the added weight turn into inedible tissue, such as bones. The meat industry does endeavor to increase feed-to-flesh efficiency, but the “improvements” sadly come via genetic tinkering, growth enhancing drugs, and questionable feed.

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