Food Waste Management in USA

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 8 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 U.S., 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.

About Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is the CEO of BioEnergy Consult, and an international consultant, advisor and trainer with expertise in waste management, biomass energy, waste-to-energy, environment protection and resource conservation. His geographical areas of focus include Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Salman has successfully accomplished a wide range of projects in the areas of biogas technology, biomass energy, waste-to-energy, recycling and waste management. Salman has participated in numerous national and international conferences all over the world. He is a prolific environmental journalist, and has authored more than 300 articles in reputed journals, magazines and websites. In addition, he is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management and environmental sustainability through his blogs and portals. Salman can be reached at or
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10 Responses to Food Waste Management in USA

  1. In Ontario, Canada, many municipalities, including Halton Region, provide residents with curbside collection of food scraps and compostable papers (like paper towels). Most municipalities utilize aerobic decomposition techniques; a few use anaerobic decomposition. To encourage residents to compost, their GreenCarts (compost bin) is collected once a week, while their garbage is collected once every other week.

    – Halton Region, Waste Diversion Education Coordinator, Halton Region

  2. Pingback: Waste not, want not… in China | LEARN FROM NATURE

  3. heybesane says:

    Hello everybody; this article is very important, because it deals the most useful source of renewable energy; I’am as a biogas developper in my country Mauritania; I encourage this publisher to continue lightening ng the way of promotion for this valuable energy, thanks again. gallo yero sane

  4. Jim Seley says:

    Very well written and informative. Thanks for sharing! Consider this: each ton of food waste is worth about $500 – 750 depending on the industry. That’s $100,000 a month that a large food manufacturer or a large food processor is throwing away. Clearly, any company that shows an interest in sustainability can do a lot toward building consumer loyalty as well as save itself a considerable amount of money.

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  8. hardwaredatadestruction says:

    Great post and excellent writing! This article is very important because it deals with the most useful source of renewable energy. It is a very important thing people should know about these things.

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