anaerobic digestion

My Very Own Brown Bin

By Sophia Kelley

#BrownBin in Brooklyn

#BrownBin in Brooklyn

I was elated to see a flyer in my mailbox from the NYC Department of Sanitation this week. Why? Because it said that my building would be one of the 35,000 new households to be part of the city’s expanded organics collection pilot program. In other words, we’re getting our very own brown bin! Perfect timing because our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) just started summer distributions and the amount of food scraps produced in our kitchen has already increased.

All the buildings in my neighborhood received the bins for food and yard waste and each individual apartment was given a small container for collecting kitchen scraps. The brown bins go to the curb once a week with our regular recycling pick up. Until now, we had to collect our food waste and take it to a community garden or farmer’s market for composting, but now it’s easier than ever to recycle our organic waste.

This is great news because food makes up the largest percentage of waste going to landfills each year and uneaten food rotting in landfills accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. So think about climate change the next time you toss your leftover lunch into the trash.

Instructions for the NYC Organics Collection Program

Instructions for the NYC Organics Collection Program

Instead of landfills, our organic waste is going to be turned into compost to help keep the soil in New York City’s parks healthy. Some of the scraps are also going to be collected and taken to the Newtown Creek sewage treatment plant. The waste will be put to use in an anaerobic digestion process that will capture the methane and convert it to biogas which can then be used to generate electricity… all from your old pizza crusts!

If your neighborhood has not been included yet in the organics recycling program, don’t worry – the city’s goal is to provide all New Yorkers access to organics recycling by 2018. Until then, do your best to prevent food waste and take your kitchen scraps to the nearest compost collection project.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Love Food, Hate Waste

About the author: Cara Peck is an Environmental Scientist in EPA Region 9. For the past three years she has worked on the recycling of organic materials, but is now working on reducing the climate change and energy implications from the Agriculture Industry.

I love food. At various points along the day, it is a safe bet that I’m thinking about what to eat for my next meal. This could be the product of growing up in Northern California where we have amazing food, or it could be because I love to cook and eating logically follows cooking. Whatever the reason, I’m a huge fan of food.

While many share my love of the culinary world, there is an ugly and harmful side to the delicacies we enjoy- food waste. Organic waste, which includes food, currently makes up 25% of what is going to landfills. In addition to a host of other problems, landfills emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In an effort to try to get this food waste out of landfills, I started researching the anaerobic digestion of food waste. Basically, in an atmosphere without oxygen, bacteria feed on the food waste, break it down, and produce biogas in the process. Amazingly, biogas is an energy source, so in the process of reducing waste, energy is produced!

To further explore this project, I managed a few projects that investigated using this technology at wastewater treatment facilities. Many wastewater treatment facilities already use anaerobic digesters to break down sewage sludge. In addition, most of these digesters have excess capacity for something like… food waste!

Here’s a snapshot of how the process works: food scraps are collected at nearby restaurants. Then are sent to a local wastewater treatment facility, processed and injected into the anaerobic digesters. The bacteria go to work, break down the waste and produce biogas. The biogas is captured and used on site to power the facility, or even sent back to the grid. The residual that is left after the bugs have done their job is reduced, making it much easier to truck to the compost facility. Upon further composting, the material can be used as a soil amendment to grow more food. It’s a true closed-loop, sustainable system.

This technology has national applicability and I’m excited to see it more widely adopted in an effort to reduce waste and to combat climate change.

Since I do love food so much, I must admit that there isn’t often much waste left on my plate. However, I feel a little better about my love affair with food knowing that the waste that is left is going to a higher use and not contributing to climate change.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.