Food waste is a global issue that begins at home and as such, it is an ideal contender for testing out new approaches to behaviour change. The behavioural drivers that lead to food being wasted are complex and often inter-related, but predominantly centre around purchasing habits, and the way in which we store, cook, eat and celebrate food.
Consumer Behavior – A Top Priority
Consumer behaviour is a huge priority area in particular for industrialised nations – it is estimated that some western societies might be throwing away up to a third of all food purchased. The rise of cheap food and convenience culture in recent years has compounded this problem, with few incentives or disincentives in place at producer, retail or consumer level to address this.
While it is likely that a number of structural levers – such as price, regulation, enabling measures and public benefits – will need to be pulled together in a coherent way to drive progress on this agenda, at a deeper level there is a pressing argument to explore the psycho-social perspectives of behaviour change.
Individual or collective behaviours often exist within a broader cultural context of values and attitudes that are hard to measure and influence. Simple one-off actions such as freezing leftovers or buying less during a weekly food shop do not necessarily translate into daily behaviour patterns. For such motivations to have staying power, they must become instinctive acts, aligned with an immediate sense of purpose. The need to consider more broadly our behaviours and how they are implicated in such issues must not stop at individual consumers, but extend to governments, businesses and NGOs if effective strategies are to be drawn up.
Emergence of Food Waste Disposers
Food waste disposer (FWDs), devices invented and adopted as a tool of food waste management may now represent a unique new front in the fight against climate change. These devices, commonplace in North America, Australia and New Zealand work by shredding household or commercial food waste into small pieces that pass through a municipal sewer system without difficulty.
The shredded food particles are then conveyed by existing wastewater infrastructure to wastewater treatment plants where they can contribute to the generation of biogas via anaerobic digestion. This displaces the need for generation of the same amount of biogas using traditional fossil fuels, thereby averting a net addition of greenhouse gases (GHG) to the atmosphere.
Food waste is an ideal contender for testing new approaches to behaviour change.
The use of anaerobic digesters is more common in the treatment of sewage sludge, as implemented in the U.K., but not as much in the treatment of food waste. In addition to this, food waste can also replace methanol (produced from fossil fuels) and citric acid used in advanced wastewater treatment processes which are generally carbon limited.
Despite an ample number of studies pointing to the evidence of positive impacts of food waste disposer, concerns regarding its use still exist, notably in Europe. Scotland for example has passed legislation that bans use of FWDs, stating instead that customers must segregate their waste and make it available curbside for pickup. This makes it especially difficult for the hospitality industry, to which the use of disposer is well suited.
The U.S. however has seen larger scale adoption of the technology due to the big sales push it received in the 1950s and 60s. In addition to being just kitchen convenience appliances, FWDs are yet to be widely accepted as a tool for positive environmental impact.
Note: Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link
There’s no denying that plastic wrap has been a convenient product in most households for many years. However, as most waste disposal companies will tell you, its convenience is only for you – not the environment. It stops your sandwiches from going stale, but it also takes centuries to break down. Your one sandwich wrapper could be responsible for killing a myriad of animals while it sits there waiting to lose its structural integrity. Fortunately, there is a better way. Read on to discover many eco-friendly wrapping and packaging materials that could end up being better for the environment.
1. Glass Containers
One of the many reasons why people want to make the switch from plastic is because it can take centuries to break down. However, so does glass, so why use it? Unlike plastic which tends to lean toward being a single-use product, glass is something you can have forever. It’s one of the longest-lasting materials and will prove to offer no end of convenience.
In most cases, you can use glass containers in your fridge, freezer, microwave, and even oven. You couldn’t do that with most plastic products. Glass containers are also an excellent alternative for plastic in almost every way. You can put your unwrapped sandwiches in them and seal the lid shut. You can also put leftover dinner into them for reheating later.
Glass containers are even something you can take to the grocery store. Instead of a supermarket filling a plastic container with their deli items or bulk groceries, you can fill your glass jars. One product can end up having many uses, saving thousands of plastic wrap rolls and containers from requiring waste disposal.
2. Mason Jars
Mason jars have been around since the 1850s, but it’s only in recent years there has been a resurgence in their use. As consumers come to realize that plastic is not environmentally-friendly, they are starting to use sealable mason jars that serve a whole variety of purposes. Cafes are using them for beverages, and you can even use them for serving at home. What’s more, there’s nothing wrong with using them for produce, soup, grains, and more. Move aside plastic; there’s a new player in town.
3. Parchment Paper
If you are trying to minimize how much rubbish you send away for waste disposal, then consider swapping your cling film for parchment paper. Wax or parchment paper is an excellent alternative, while also breaking down far quicker than plastic wrap. It will still keep your sandwiches fresh, but with a much less detrimental impact on the environment.
4. Bees Wrap
Bees wrap is a relatively new product to hit the market, but it’s already making waves. It consists of cotton muslin cloth dipped in beeswax, tree resin, and jojoba oil. When you heat them with your hands, you’re able to seal food within. Both the jojoba oil and beeswax are also antibacterial which can offer exceptional benefits with preservation.
When you have eaten your sandwich, you don’t need to worry about impacting waste disposal. You can clean the wraps and reuse them.
Many countries around the world have banned single-use plastic bags, with New Zealand the latest nation to join the movement. It will only be a matter of time before waste disposal businesses notice the dramatic impact in plastic waste. That’s a good thing – but how will people package their goods, or carry their groceries? Cardboard is about to become far more popular than it is now.
Instead of packaging your items in plastic, you can store them neatly in cardboard boxes. They break down into the environment, are effortless to stack, and you can use them more than once.
6. Go Nude
For the sake of waste disposal, why not consider going nude? We don’t mean take all your clothes off, but why not avoid packaging altogether? Grocery stores are not making this process easy with the number of plastic-wrapped items they have, but you can be more conscientious about the purchasing decisions you make.
Put your vegetables and fruit in cloth bags and your loose bulk bin items into glass jars. Instead of buying pasta, rice, and other ingredients in plastic packets, buy them from bulk stores that encourage you to bring containers to put them in. If you can’t seem to avoid plastic, then draw up a meal plan that differs from what you usually do. You can then make an effort to eat food that will not arrive in packaging.
People used to cope without plastic for packaging and wrapping, and they can do so again. Think of the effects of waste disposal and how you can stop your contribution to the growing problem. Use glass jars and containers, buy ingredients in bulk, and stop using plastic wrap for your sandwiches. These might seem like small changes, but when 7.7 billion people follow suit, we can make a significant difference.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, is focused on addressing two of the most important challenges in India – hunger and education. Established in year 2000, the Foundation began its work by providing quality mid-day meals to 1500 children in 5 schools in Bangalore with the understanding that the meal would attract children to schools, after which it would be easier to retain them and focus on their holistic development. 14 years later, the Foundation has expanded its footprint to cover over 1.4 million children in 10 states and 24 locations across India.
The Foundation has centralised, automated kitchens that can cook close to 6,000 kilos of rice, 4.5 to 5 tonnes of vegetables and 6,000 litres of sambar, in only 4 hours. In order to make sustainable use of organic waste generated in their kitchens, Akshaya Patra Foundation has set up anaerobic digestion plants to produce biogas which is then used as a cooking fuel. The primary equipment used in the biogas plant includes size reduction equipment, feed preparation tank for hydrolysis of waste stream, anaerobic digester, H2S scrubber and biogas holder.
Vegetable peels, rejects and cooked food waste are shredded and soaked with cooked rice water (also known as ganji) in a feed preparation tank for preparation of homogeneous slurry and fermentative intermediates. The hydrolyzed products are then utilized by the microbial culture, anaerobically in the next stage. This pre-digestion step enables faster and better digestion of organics, making our process highly efficient.
The hydrolyzed organic slurry is fed to the anaerobic digester, exclusively for the high rate biomethanation of organic substrates like food waste. The digester is equipped with slurry distribution mechanism for uniform distribution of slurry over the bacterial culture.
Optimum solids are retained in the digester to maintain the required food-to-microorganism ratio in the digester with the help of a unique baffle arrangement. Mechanical slurry mixing and gas mixing provisions are also included in the AD design to felicitate maximum degradation of organic material for efficient biogas production.
After trapping moisture and scrubbing off hydrogen sulphide from the biogas, it is collected in a gas-holder and a pressurized gas tank. This biogas is piped to the kitchen to be used as a cooking fuel, replacing LPG.
Basic Design Data and Performance Projections
Waste handling capacity 1 ton per day cooked and uncooked food waste with 1 ton per day ganji water
Amount of solid organic waste
Amount of organic wastewater
~ 1000 liters/day ganji (cooked rice water)
~ 120 – 135 m3/day
Equivalent LPG to replace
50 – 55 Kg/day (> 2.5 commercial LPG cylinders)
Fertilizer (digested leachate)
~ 1500 – 2000 liters/day
Modern biogas installations are providing Akshaya Patra, an ideal platform for managing organic waste on a daily basis. The major benefits are:
Solid waste disposal at kitchen site avoiding waste management costs
Immediate waste processing overcomes problems of flies, mosquitos etc.
Avoiding instances when the municipality does not pick up waste, creating nuisance, smell, spillage etc.
Anaerobic digestion of Ganji water instead of directly treating it in ETP, therefore reducing organic load on the ETPs and also contributing to additional biogas production.
The decentralized model of biogas based waste-to-energy plants at Akshaya Patra kitchens ensure waste destruction at source and also reduce the cost incurred by municipalities on waste collection and disposal.
An on-site system, converting food and vegetable waste into green energy is improving our operations and profits by delivering the heat needed to replace cooking LPG while supplying a rich liquid fertilizer as a by-product. Replacement of fossil fuel with LPG highlights our organization’s commitment towards sustainable development and environment protection.
The typical ROI of a plug and play system (without considering waste disposal costs, subsidies and tax benifts) is around three years.
Utilization of surplus biogas – After consumption of biogas for cooking purposes, Akshaya Patra will consider utilizing surplus biogas for other thermal applications. Additional biogas may be used to heat water before boiler operations, thereby reducing our briquette consumption.
Digested slurry to be used as a fertilizer – the digested slurry from biogas plant is a good soil amendment for landscaping purposes and we plan to use it in order to reduce the consumption of water for irrigation as well as consumption of chemical fertilizers.
For businesses trying to make a name for themselves in the beverage industry, the challenges are vast and varied. Yes, the sector can be a profitable one – it’s predicted that the global market will be worth $1.86 trillion by 2024 – but that does not mean there are any guarantees of success.
There are a wide range of difficulties facing start-ups of all kinds, and being able to make an impression within the drinks industry is certainly no different. Of course, not every enterprise will start out hoping to become the next Coca Cola, Heineken or Starbucks, but having a solid business plan and a clearly defined set of goals is likely to offer a greater chance for success.
Part of that planning involves identifying which tools and processes are going to help your organisation compete against its rivals. Advances are being made all the time, but which technologies might be most effective in launching a beverage business. Read on to know more:
1. Flow-through systems
Automated systems can prove invaluable in terms of streamlining the processes of sorting, packaging, labelling and distributing produce. Flow-through systems utilise robots to do the vast majority of this work, using proximity sensors in order to detect the presence of other objects and repeat the same movements. Operating in this way can help to reduce the risk of human error while simultaneously lowering running costs and increasing productivity and efficiency.
2. Industrial Internet of Things
This is where devices in an industrial setting are connected on a network in order to communicate with one another. The IIoT can enable machines involved in the manufacturing process to log data and identify any faults in the production line, which means each drink is turned out to a greater level of consistency.
3. Voice technology
Another development that is assisting beverage businesses – and those in other industries – is the emergence of voice technology. Warehouse operators can now harness this concept to issue voice commands that will be picked up by the relevant pieces of machinery, which subsequently carry out the action. This means tasks can be completed in a safer, more time-efficient manner, while it also makes training of new employees easier in that there are fewer manual skills for them to learn.
4. NFC tags
Moving away from the manufacturing side of the business, near field communication (NFC) tags can help to improve the customer experience once the product has been put to market. NFC technology is what’s used in contactless payment devices, and the concept has been adapted by the beverage industry in order to add another dimension to the product that consumers purchase.
They can be added to the label or packaging and scanned with a smartphone to unlock a range of additional information about the drink.
5. Cloud service
For businesses in any field, the challenge of data storage is one that can be difficult to overcome. Giants of the industry will have the available resources to own and run their own infrastructures, but others may not be in a position to do so or may wish to focus their spending in different areas.
As a solution, there are cloud service providers who offer rented access to certain software at a lower cost, which frees up funds for beverage companies to commit more capital towards the likes of R&D, production and marketing.
Food processing industry around the world is making serious efforts to minimize by-products, compost organic waste, recycle processing and packaging materials, and save energy and water. The three R’s of waste management – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – can help food manufacturers in reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill and reusing waste.
EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy
EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy is an excellent resource to follow for food processors and beverage producers as it provides the guidance to start a program that will provide the most benefits for the environment, society and the food manufacturer.
recycling/reusing waste for utilization by other industries,
feeding surplus food to needy people
Waste Management Options
Food manufacturers has a unique problem – excess product usually has a relatively short shelf life while most of the waste is organic in nature. Food waste created during the production process can be turned into animal feed and sold to goat farms, chicken farms etc. As far as WWTP sludge is concerned, top food manufacturers are recycling/reusing it through land application, anaerobic digestion and composting alternatives.
Organic waste at any food processing plant can be composted in a modern in-vessel composting and the resultant fertilizer can be used for in-house landscaping or sold as organic fertilizer as attractive prices.
Another plausible way of managing organic waste at the food manufacturing plant is to biologically degrade it in an anaerobic digester leading to the formation of energy-rich biogas and digestate. Biogas can be used as a heating fuel in the plant itself or converted into electricity by using a CHP unit while digestate can be used as a soil conditioner. Biogas can also be converted into biomethane or bio-CNG for its use as vehicle fuel.
Items such as cardboard, clean plastic, metal and paper are all commodities that can be sold to recyclers Lots of cardboard boxes are used by food manufacturers for supplies which can be broken down into flat pieces and sold to recyclers.
Cardboard boxes can also be reused to temporarily store chip packages before putting them into retail distribution boxes. Packaging can be separated in-house and recovered using “jet shredder” waste technologies which separate film, carton and foodstuffs, all of which can then be recycled separately.
Organizing a Zero Landfill Program
How do you develop a plan to create a zero landfill program or zero waste program in food and beverage producing company? The best way to begin is to start at a small-level and doing what you can. Perfect those programs and set goals each year to improve. Creation of a core team is an essential step in order to explore different ways to reduce waste, energy and utilities.
Measuring different waste streams and setting a benchmark is the initial step in the zero landfill program. Once the data has been collected, we should break these numbers down into categories, according to the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and identify the potential opportunities.
For example, inorganic materials can be categorized based on their end lives (reuse, recycle or landfill). The food and beverage industry should perform a waste sort exercise (or dumpster dive) to identify its key streams.
Nestlé USA – A Case Study
In April 2015, Nestlé USA announced all 23 of its facilities were landfill free. As part of its sustainability effort, Nestlé USA is continually looking for new ways to reuse, recycle and recover energy, such as composting, recycling, energy production and the provision of safe products for animal feed, when disposing of manufacturing by-products.
Employees also work to minimize by-products and engage in recycling programs and partnerships with credible waste vendors that dispose of manufacturing by-products in line with Nestlé’s environmental sustainability guidelines and standards. All Nestlé facilities employ ISO 14001-certified environmental management systems to minimize their environmental impact.
Every year, the production of food around the world accounts for almost a third of all global emissions of greenhouse gases. Deforestation, grazing livestock, and the use of fertilizers all contribute to climate change. Finding ways to minimize the damage that food production causes is becoming a priority in the fight against global warming. In addition, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that every year, the world produces enough food waste to feed 2 billion people.
To address these problems, the field of bioengineering has found ways to recycle scrap food, reduce the amount thrown away, and find alternative ways to produce sufficient food to feed the world more sustainably and with less waste.
Engineering Sustainable Food
A degree in bioengineering, or a masters in biomedical engineering online, involves the study of a range of scientific fields from computational biology and physiological systems to mechanical engineering and material sciences. This multidisciplinary approach lends itself well to improving the sustainability of food production. For many years, the genetic engineering of plants has created the potential of increasing production in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way, and more recently, progress has been made in creating synthetic meat.
Now, without the use of genetic engineering, biomedical engineers have created the first bioprinted steak from cattle cells. The qualities of real meat are replicated by allowing living cells to grow and interact in the same way as they would in nature. The result is the creation of an authentic-tasting steak produced without the extensive environmental damage caused by farming livestock.
Converting Food Into Fuel
Every year in the US alone, 80 billion pounds of food is thrown away without being eaten. An increasing number of scientific projects are working on harnessing the valuable energy from food waste and converting it into renewable fuel. This can then be used to power a range of vehicles from privately owned cars to planes and trains.
In communities where food waste is collected along with other recyclable materials, anaerobic digestion can also be used to convert the high fat content of food waste into green electricity, which is put back into the grid to power households.
Reducing Food Waste
Some food scraps are unavoidable, but now bioengineering is being applied to reduce some of the waste from over consumerism. Shoppers often buy excess food and leave fresh fruit and vegetables to go mouldy before they are eaten. Using plant derived-technology, the protective peels of fruit and vegetables can now be enhanced, allowing them to stay fresh for triple the amount of time of regularly grown produce. As the freshness of the products is protected for longer, the logistical costs of a strictly controlled refrigerated supply chain are reduced, and in the long-term, food waste is minimized.
As it exists at the moment, the food supply chain is environmentally damaging. From growing meat in a lab to extending the lifespan of fresh food, bioengineers are now finding ways to improve sustainability in food production.
Nowadays, we can get food from the four corners of the Earth. If you want tropical fruit during the winter, you can get it. You’ll never run out of oranges, mangoes, or bananas. While these fruits and other imported foods are delicious, it’s important to eat the foods local to your area.
Shopping for and eating locally grown food is stellar for the environment and your health. However, it’s a bit difficult to navigate these days when most common items are imported. Let’s go through some tips to become a responsible food consumer:
1. Research Food Local to Your Area
First things first, get to know what crops grow best in your area. Do some googling and go to the library to find resources. Talk to people at your local grocery store.
Figure out which foods grow during the specific seasons and tailor your diet to suit the standards. Buy some cookbooks that have recipes specific to your area if they’re available.
2. Go Into the Store With a Game Plan
Going into a grocery store can either be a terrible burden or a fun experience. Most of the time, we enter huge establishments that push certain products towards consumers due to profits. Those who consider grocery shopping burdensome should craft a plan of action.
You’ve already looked into local foods in your area. Now, you can craft recipes based on the ingredients. Plan what you’re going to cook for the week before you go shopping. Then, you can shop efficiently without succumbing to sales prices or food from far away.
3. Use Online Marketplaces Run by Farmers
While being responsible for your food choices involves eating mostly locally, some imported delicacies are hard to resist. Go easy on yourself. While you should avoid going into huge grocery chains and buying exclusively imported foods, you can splurge every once in a while.
If you want to buy certain foods that need to be imported, consider using online marketplaces like Pinduoduo. These stores are partnered directly with farmers. That way, you can enjoy imported foods while supporting farmers directly.
4. Go to Your Local Farmers Market
While grocery chains are great for certain products, there’s nothing like a farmers’ market. At a farmers market, you are directly exposed to the foods grown in your area. While farmers maintain a huge presence in these markets, you’ll also see other vendors as well.
Organic food is a modern, healthy part of a sustainable lifestyle.
You’ll be able to buy locally made dips, chips, and other snacks. Plus, you can also buy crops or plants from certain individuals if you have a green thumb.
5. Buy Less
When transitioning to the life of a responsible food consumer, you’ll have to adjust to buying less every week. A responsible consumer does not overbuy. The individual buys what they need, whether that can be accomplished in one trip to the store or several.
The more you minimize food waste, the better you’ll feel. However, take baby steps and don’t feel too down if you have waste.
Become a Responsible Food Consumer
The task of being a responsible food consumer seems impossible, but it isn’t. The journey will take a while since you’re changing your habits and mindset, but it’s worth it. When you follow the steps to be more responsible, your body, mind, and the earth will thank you.
Take your time, make small changes every day, and have fun in the process. Maybe a love for cooking or baking will pop up while you are in the process.
New York City and Oxford are two prominent examples of local authorities that have tried to restrict the use of foam packaging for takeaway food and drink, arguing that doing so would reduce the environmental impact of waste in a way that alternative approaches could not. In both cases, the intervention of packaging manufacturers has lifted or watered down the rules. Other administrations might well be put off the idea of similar measures – but the argument for cracking down on foam packaging that almost unavoidably gives rise to regional waste management problems, as well as wider environmental degradation through its contribution to litter, remains hard to ignore. Bans, however, may not be the only option.
Menace of Foam Packaging
A particular target for action has been expanded polystyrene (EPS). It’s rigid and a good insulator, and yet a great deal of it is air, making it very lightweight: it’s little wonder that EPS trays, cups and ‘clamshells’ are staples of the industry. It’s also widely used in pre-moulded form in the packaging of electronics, and as loose fill packaging in the form of ‘peanuts’.
While no-one would deny its convenience, for waste managers, EPS is a challenge, for many of the same reasons that it is popular. It’s light and difficult to compact, so it fills up bins and collection vehicles quickly; and takes up a great deal of space if you try to bulk and haul it for recycling.
It’s easy to see, then, why in 2013 New York City’s council voted unanimously to prohibit the use of EPS by all restaurants, food carts, and stores. Yet from the outset, the ban proposal faced stiff opposition from retailers and manufacturers, with packaging giant Dart Container Corp. and the American Chemistry Council reportedly organising a million dollars’ worth of lobbying against the legislation. Once it took effect, the industry quickly managed to overturn it in the courts last month.
Ban on the Run
The city had found that the recycling of EPS was not, in fact, environmentally effective, economically feasible and safe, and NYC was declared EPS-free in July 2015. But in a widely reported ruling, Justice Margaret Chan deemed the decision “arbitrary and capricious”: the complex case turned on the question of whether there was a recycling market for EPS, and the judge decided that Commissioner Kathryn Garcia of the city’s Department of Sanitation had failed to take account of evidence supplied by the industry that such a market did exist.
Although it lacked the courtroom drama of the New York City case, a similar story played out in Oxford last year. The city council proposed to use its licensing powers to require street traders to use only “biodegradable and recyclable” packaging and utensils. The move was stymied by semantics: the Foodservice Packaging Association lobbied for the phrasing of the proposed licensing rule to be amended to ‘biodegradable or recyclable’. That tiny change allowed continued use of expanded polystyrene, as it is technically recyclable (though certainly not biodegradable).
Oxford’s traders are also required to arrange for the correct disposal of EPS takeaway packaging from their premises. This is an odd requirement given that take-away food is usually – well – taken away, and then disposed of in street bins, household bins, or in no bin at all. Unfortunately, Oxford City Council – like almost every other council in the country – isn’t currently able to send EPS for recycling, so the EPS it collects will in practice end up in the residual stream. The EPS litter that escapes will linger in the environment for centuries to come.
It seems that both courts and councillors have been impressed by the manufacturers’ argument: ‘Why ban a highly efficient product when you can invest in recycling it instead?’ However, there are three important points that count against this contention.
The first is that, whilst EPS can technically be recycled, the economics of doing so remain tenuous. Zero Waste Scotland’s report on Plastic Recycling Business Opportunities found that polystyrene waste compacting and collection was the only one of five options considered that did not represent a viable business opportunity in Scotland.
In order to make the finances of collecting EPS for recycling stack up in New York, Dart Corporation and Plastics Recycling Inc. had to offer to provide the city with $500,000 of sorting technology; pay for four staff; and guarantee to buy the material at $160 per tonne for five years. Without this (time limited) largesse, New York’s ban would likely have stood.
They also provided a list of 21 buyers, who they claimed would purchase dirty EPS – although when the city did a market test, it could find no realistic market for the material. It’s hard to know whose view of the US market is correct; however, in the UK, the market is definitely weak.
Of the 34 EPS recyclers listed by the BPF Expanded Polystyrene Group, 12 only accept clean EPS – ruling out post-consumer fast food waste. Another dozen will only accept compacted EPS, creating an extra processing cost for anyone attempting to separate EPS for recycling. That leaves a maximum of ten UK outlets: not enough to handle the potential supply, and leaving large tracts of the country out of economic haulage range for such a bulky, lightweight material.
The second is that it’s difficult to get a high percentage of takeaway food containers into the recycling stream. Food eaten on the go is likely, at best, to go into a litter bin. And if it’s littered, because it’s light, EPS can also easily be blown around the streets, contributing to urban, riverine and ultimately marine litter. It’s also very slow to break down in the natural environment. Polystyrene has been found to make up 8% of marine litter washed up on North East Atlantic beaches; in all, plastics account for three quarters of this litter. The cost, particularly for coastal and island nations, is only beginning to be recognised.
That leads on to the third argument: while EPS undoubtedly works, less damaging alternatives are clearly available. Vegware, for example, allows takeaway boxes to be moved up the waste hierarchy – from disposal to composting. Reducing impacts was clearly a consideration in Oxford: in the words of Councillor Colin Cooke:
“It is about making the waste that we do have to get rid of more user-friendly and sustainable.”
The economic and technical difficulty in recycling EPS, combined with the long-term impacts of its littering and disposal, led Michelle Rose Rubio to conclude, in an Isonomia article last year, that environmentally minded people – and perhaps governments – should perhaps avoid it altogether.
Despite the discouraging events in New York and Oxford, there’s better news from elsewhere. Bans remain in place in Toronto and Paris (both dating from 2007), while Muntinlupa in the Philippines, and the coastal state of Malaka in Malaysia have imposed charges, fines, and biodegradable replacements for EPS food packaging, eventually leading to bans.
Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead has indicated that the Scottish Government is: “considering a number of options in line with the commitment in the national litter strategy to influence product design of frequently littered items to reduce their environmental impact… [W]e note a number of US cities have introduced bans on Styrofoam products, most recently New York City. We are keen to learn from these cities’ experience of introducing and implementing such bans.”
In Wales, a polystyrene ban petition lodged last year by Friends of Barry Beaches has been picking up support. The Foodservice Packaging Association’s pre-emptive opposition to the notion certainly suggests we haven’t heard the last of EPS food packaging bans in the UK.
However, bans are not the only way to deter the use of problem products. England has just joined the ranks of countries to impose a charge for single use plastic bags. Belgium has a tax on disposable cutlery, and Malta taxes numerous products on environmental grounds, including chewing gum and EPS clamshells. Whilst beyond the powers of local authorities, fiscal measures could drive change while being a bit less of a blunt instrument than a ban.
While EPS manufacturers may have scored some recent successes, they haven’t won the overarching argument. As we push towards a more circular economy, the pressure to reduce our reliance on materials that are inherently hard to recycle, which tend to escape into the environment, and which don’t decompose naturally, will grow. For EPS fast food packaging, the chips could soon be well and truly down.
Note: This article is being republished with the permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be found at this link.
For most of the world, reusing our food waste is limited to a compost pile and a home garden. While this isn’t a bad thing – it can be a great way to provide natural fertilizer for our home-grown produce and flower beds – it is fairly limited in its execution. Biomethane from food waste is an interesting idea which can be implemented in communities notorious for generating food wastes on a massive scale. Infact, the European Union is looking for a new way to reuse the millions of tons of food waste that are produced ever year in its member countries – and biomethane could be the way to go.
The Bin2Grid project is designed to make use of the 88 million tons of food waste that are produced in the European Union every year. For the past two years, the program has focused on collecting the food waste and unwanted or unsold produce, and converting it, first to biogas and then later to biomethane. This biomethane was used to supply fueling stations in the program’s pilot cities – Paris, Malaga, Zagreb and Skopje.
Biomethane could potentially replace fossil fuels, but how viable is it when so many people still have cars that run on gasoline?
The Benefits of Biomethane
Harvesting fossil fuels is naturally detrimental to the environment. The crude oil needs to be pulled from the earth, transported and processed before it can be used. It is a finite resource and experts estimate that we will exhaust all of our oil, gas and coal deposits by 2088.
While it is true that biomethane still releases CO2 into the atmosphere while burned, it is a neutral kind of waste. Just hear us out. The biggest difference between burning fossil fuels and burning biomethane is that the CO2 that was trapped in fossil fuels was trapped there millions of years ago. The CO2 in biomethane is just the CO2 that was trapped while the plants that make up the fuel were alive.
Biofuel in all its forms has a bit of a negative reputation – namely, farmers deforesting areas and removing trees that store and convert CO2 in favor of planting crops specifically for conversion into biofuel or biomethane. This is one way that anti-biofuel and pro-fossil fuel lobbyists argue against the implementation of these sort of biomethane projects – but they couldn’t be more wrong, especially with the use of food waste for conversion into useful and clean energy.
Using biogas is a great way to reduce your fuel costs as well as reuse materials that would otherwise be wasted or introduced into the environment. Upgrading biogas into biomethane isn’t possible at home at this point, but it could be in the future.
If the test cities in the European Union prove successful, biomethane made from food wastes could potentially change the way we think of fuel sources. It could also provide alternative fuel sources for areas where fossil fuels are too expensive or unavailable. We’ve got our fingers crossed that it works out well – if for no other reason that it could help us get away from our dependence on finite fossil fuel resources.
Food waste is an untapped energy source that mostly ends up rotting in landfills, thereby releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Food waste is difficult to treat or recycle since it contains high levels of sodium salt and moisture, and is mixed with other waste during collection. Major generators of food wastes include hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, residential blocks, cafeterias, airline caterers, food processing industries, etc.
In United States, food waste is the third largest waste stream after paper and yard waste. Around 13 percent of the total municipal solid waste generated in the country is contributed by food scraps. According to USEPA, more than 35 million tons of food waste are thrown away into landfills or incinerators each year, which is around 40 percent of all food consumed in the country.
As far as United Kingdom is concerned, households throw away around 4.5 million tons of food each year. These statistics are an indication of tremendous amount of food waste generated all over the world.
Food Waste Management Strategy
The proportion of food waste in municipal waste stream is gradually increasing and hence a proper food waste management strategy needs to be devised to ensure its eco-friendly and sustainable disposal. The two most common methods for food waste recycling are:
Composting: A treatment that breaks down biodegradable waste by naturally occurring micro-organisms with oxygen, in an enclosed vessel or tunnel;
Anaerobic digestion (AD): A treatment that breaks down biodegradable waste in the absence of oxygen, producing a renewable energy (biogas) that can be used to generate electricity and heat.
Currently, only about 3 percent of food waste is recycled throughout USA, mainly through composting. Composting provides an alternative to landfill disposal of food waste, however it requires large areas of land, produces volatile organic compounds and consumes energy. Consequently, there is an urgent need to explore better recycling alternatives.
Anaerobic digestion has been successfully used in several European and Asian countries to stabilize food wastes, and to provide beneficial end-products. Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Germany and England have led the way in developing new advanced biogas technologies and setting up new projects for conversion of food waste into energy.
Of the different types of organic wastes available, food waste holds the highest potential in terms of economic exploitation as it contains high amount of carbon and can be efficiently converted into biogas and organic fertilizer. Food waste can either be used as a single substrate in a biogas plant, or can be co-digested with organic wastes like cow manure, poultry litter, sewage, crop residues, abattoir wastes, etc.
Food waste is one of the single largest constituent of municipal solid waste stream. Diversion of food waste from landfills can provide significant contribution towards climate change mitigation, apart from generating revenues and creating employment opportunities. Rising energy prices and increasing environmental pollution makes it more important to harness renewable energy from food wastes.
Anaerobic digestion technology is widely available worldwide and successful projects are already in place in several European as well as Asian countries which makes it imperative on waste generators and environmental agencies in USA to strive for a sustainable food waste management system.
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