I wrote an article which was originally posted in the March 13th, 2017 issue of The Pavlovic Today in which I discussed how plastics can be separated at plastic recycling facilities. 

Companies which specialize in recycling glass have equipment which enables the people who work at those companies to easily separate green glass, blue glass, brown glass and clear glass.  Companies which specialize in recycling metals have equipment which enables the people who work at those companies to separate different kinds of metals.

By contrast, once coffee grinds, fruit and vegetable peel, used tea bags, bones and fat from fish, poultry and meats, and dairy products which have passed their expiration dates are mixed together, these materials cannot be separated.

However, food waste does not need to be separated.  Non food waste items such as packaging which people inadvertently sometimes include with their food waste will need to be removed, but almost all food waste itself is potentially useful.

Mixing fruit, vegetable, dairy and meat products in small sized compost piles that people keep in their backyards is an effective means of making compost or mulch that people can use to grow flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs in their gardens at home.  People throughout the world have been doing this in their home gardens for many centuries, long before scientists fully understood the chemistry which is involved in the processes of biodegrading. 

However, because different kinds of food waste items decompose at different rates, this is not an effective means for producing compost or garden mulch on an industrial scale. 

An attempt to create garden mulch from food waste on an industrial scale would not likely work with existing technologies.  There are a number of other uses for food waste products, most notably food waste products can be used as the base materials in manufacturing biofuels and bioplastics

How Does Food Waste Contribute To Pollution?

It may initially seem that the decomposition of food waste is potentially harmless because food waste is part of the cycle of growing fruits vegetables or other plants and raising animals. 

If fruits and vegetables are not harvested, they will all eventually either fall to the ground or be eaten by birds, insects and animals. 

However, when fruit trees, vegetables, herbs, flower grow in the wild, those plants are part of naturally occurring balanced ecosystems.  When animals are born in the wild, they live their lives in wilderness areas, they die in wilderness areas, and this is also part of balanced ecosystems which occur in nature. 

By contrast, when fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers are grown in orchards and on farms on an industrial scale, and when people raise animals on commercial farms, these plants and animals are not part of a naturally occurring ecosystem. 

When food waste is dumped into landfills, food waste is less damaging to ecosystems than plastic micro-beads, which I’d discussed in an article that I wrote which we’d posted in the November 11th, 2018 issue, food waste is less damaging than industrial waste which I’d discussed in an article that I wrote about the Basel Convention, the Stockholm Convention and the Rotterdam Convention which we’d posted on November 4th, 2019, and food waste is less damaging than lead which I’d discussed in an article that I wrote which we’d posted on February 1st, 2021.  However we do need to bear in mind that food waste does still contribute to ground, water and air pollution when it is sent into landfills. 

Food waste products are responsible for causing less damage to the ground, water and air than mercury, lead, plastic micro-beads and all other industrial contaminants because food waste products are almost 100% biodegradable; that’s the reason that people use them to create compost in their gardens at home.  As I researched this article, I did find some disagreement among knowledgeable climatologists and ecologists as to the precise extent to which food waste from household garbage contributes to ground pollution and subsequently to water pollution when it is dumped into landfills, however climatologists and ecologists are in full agreement that contaminants from food waste are in fact a contributing factor to ground, water and air pollution throughout the world. 

Fruit and vegetable peel as well as some other food waste products often contain pesticides which were used in the process of growing or manufacturing them.  Food waste can also contain ripening agents, food dyes and preservatives, and food waste products sometime still have price tag stickers mixed in with them.  As those items decompose in landfills, all of the chemicals which are in those products will seep into the ground and subsequently enter into groundwater. Some groundwater will lead into streams, ponds, lakes, rivers and seas, and the remaining groundwater which does not lead into bodies of water will evaporate into the air.  When groundwater evaporates, some of the chemicals which are absorbed into groundwater also evaporate into the air, while other chemicals stay in the ground and get absorbed into groundwater again when it rains.   

Food waste also contains seeds and roots mixed, so when food waste products are sent to landfills along with household garbage, food waste can to contribute to the spreading of invasive species.

A Reduction Of The Consumption Of Fossil Fuels

Because food waste can be used to manufacture biofuels and bioplastics, using food waste as the base component in manufacturing fuels and plastics will mean that we will be using less fossil fuels for the manufacturing of comparable products.  The process of making biofuels from food waste products has been well understood for approximately 100 years- as far back as the 1920’s, people were making biofuels from wood.  The process was very inefficient and expensive using 1920’s technologies, and wood was needed for quite a few other purposes, so the manufacturing fuels from wood was replaced with manufacturing fuels from crude oil which was far more cost effective.  Manufacturing biofuels from household food waste products involves many of the same chemical processes as manufacturing biofuels from wood, and with 21st century technologies, this can be done efficiently and cost effectively if this is done on a large enough scale. 

In contrast to the manufacturing of biofuels, manufacturing bioplastics from food waste products is a much newer technology.  I believe that this too can be accomplished efficiently and cost effectively if it is tried on a large enough scale.

Greenwashing Will Not Solve This Issue:

Disposals in kitchen sinks have become quite commonplace in recent years.  When kitchen sink disposals were first starting to become common, it did seem as if kitchen sink disposals would reduce the pollution which is caused by food waste.  While these disposals do keep food scraps and food waste products out of people’s household garbage, and hence these items are not sent to landfills, these products are being sent directly into urban and suburban greywater.  The items that are mixed into greywater only contribute to recycling and green energy in areas in which the technologies which are used to create fuels or heat from greywater have been implemented.  In areas in which the waste from greywater is filtered and burned or pumped out into seas and oceans, sink disposals actually don’t solve anything.

How Can Food Waste Recycling Programs Be Implemented?

Beginning in the mid 1990’s, some municipalities in the U.S., in Canada as well as in some of the countries in Europe have implemented food waste recycling programs.  While the programs have been successful, these programs are not yet becoming commonplace.  Food waste recycling still seems to be a notably low priority for many politicians.

 As I’ve mentioned, the manufacturing of biofuels and bioplastics from food waste does involve a lot of expensive equipment, and it will probably only be cost effective if it is accomplished on a large scale.  In some towns, villages, cities and counties throughout the U.S., household garbage and recycling is accomplished directly by the municipalities department of public works or comparable agencies, and in other towns, villages, cities and counties, the local governments contract with private waste management companies.  Local municipalities will need to provide containers for people to use to store their household food waste products in, similar to the manner in which municipalities and the waste disposal and recycling companies that municipalities contract with now provide bins which people use to separate glass, plastics, aluminum, cardboard and paper products for household recycling.    

Furthermore, if food scraps and food waste were to be collected from most restaurants, supermarkets as well as from the cafeterias in elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, colleges, universities, military academies, military bases, prisons, police stations, fire departments, as well as from the dining facilities in shopping malls, airports, passenger ferry terminals, bus stations, train stations and office buildings, we’d be reclaiming many thousands of tons of materials which could be used in the manufacturing of biofuels and bioplastics every day.  It might even be possible for the companies which operate trains and passenger ferries throughout the U.S. at some point to add a collection bin in train cars and passenger ferries for people to place their food waste products into.

 Supermarkets have been sending the animal fat from their meat and seafood counters to companies which use the fat to make cosmetics products for many years now.  While some supermarkets do send their fruit and vegetable peels from their fresh produce counters to companies which recycle or compost them, many supermarkets still throw the fruit and vegetable peels that are left over from making salads and other prepared foods into their dumpsters.

I would not encourage companies which manufacture products from fruits and vegetables to join in this because they’ve already sending fruit and vegetable peels to companies which manufacture animal feed and pet food for many decades now. 

No one expects that food waste recycling programs alone will end the use of fossil fuels.  It is not possible to calculate precisely how many thousands of tons or possibly even hundreds of thousands of tons of food waste items which could potentially be used in the manufacturing off biofuels and bioplastics are being dumped into landfills throughout the U.S. and Canada every day.  Even if more than 90% of these food waste items were successfully sent to companies which manufacture biofuels and bioplastics, this would only contribute to a small percentage of the fuels and plastics which are used in the U.S. and Canada annually.  As I’d pointed out in an article which I wrote which we’d posted on The Pavlovic Today’s website on March 6th, 2019, the end of the dependence on fossil fuels will be a gradual process which will be accomplished throughout the course of the 2020’s, the 2030’s and the 2040’s, and the use of food waste products in the manufacturing of biofuels and bioplastics can now easily be accomplished efficiently and cost effectively throughout the U.S. and Canada utilizing existing technologies.

 Local municipalities and quite a few other government agencies will need to establish contracts with companies which manufacture biofuels and bioplastics as well as with companies which transport waste products, so if politician throughout the U.S. and Canada do opt to support food waste recycling programs, this will take several years to implement. 

If politicians do opt to support food waste recycling programs, this will also initially cost money to implement these programs.  It is not possible to predict precise costs, but municipalities will need to purchase enough bins for all households, offices, government buildings and retail establishments to store their food waste items.  And because it is human nature for people to be skeptical of new technologies, there will likely also be a need to continue to attempt to explain to people that food waste recycling will contribute to reducing the dependence on fossil fuels. 

This will likely involve printed brochures, articles in local newspapers, PSA commercials on radio and television.  The people who maintain town, village, city, county and state governments’ website throughout the U.S. will need print brochures which will describe the technologies which are involved in food waste recycling, and they’ll also need  to add statements on their websites which include information about food waste recycling.  Many people may initially be hesitant to embrace these technologies because they may fear that saving food scraps will attract rodents and insects.  This is in fact a very legitimate concern, and PSA announcements about how food waste products can successfully be stored without attracting vermin may be necessary to popularize proposals for food waste recycling programs.   

This will all cost funds, which is why I at this point I am only stating that food waste recycling programs can be easily implemented throughout all of the U.S. and Canada.  In some of the countries in the developing world, the budgets of many government agencies already cannot meet the needs of the programs that those agencies need to operate, and the covid pandemic is further impacting the funds which are available to almost all government agencies throughout the world, so proposals for implementing food waste recycling programs in the developing world may have to wait until the 2030’s or possibly even the 2040’s.  

In the U.S. and Canada, the Green Parties are placing a lot more emphasis on all recycling programs, including food waste, though in recent years, some of the other parties have also been beginning to research this issue and discuss implementing food waste recycling programs.

People Have Been Successfully Recycling Used Vegetable Oil

As I researched this article, I found that programs which involve recycling used vegetable oils are an interesting comparison to food waste recycling.  The technologies which are used in refining used vegetable oil for use in components which are used as ingredients in the manufacture of biodiesel, soaps, animal feed and cosmetics products have been understood since the 1890’s. 

However, it was not until the latter decades of the twentieth century that programs which involve recycling used cooking into other products became commonplace.  I hope that it does not take another half century for people to embrace food waste recycling.  Recent weather patterns illustrate the need to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels as soon as possible, we cannot afford to wait any longer. 

I do want to point out that there are some important differences between the recycling of used vegetable oils and food waste recycling.  Used vegetable oils are a single product, while there are many thousands of different materials which are included in food waste, so the recycling of food waste is a more complex process than recycling used cooking oils. 

While government agencies establish regulations regarding recycling used vegetable oils, the transportation of used vegetable oils and the recycling is accomplished entirely by privately owned companies.  By contrast, in some municipalities, the recycling of food waste is included with household recycling programs.

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Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...

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1 Comment

  1. Here in the UK we have the York Maize Maze where they have been selling pens made of maize for years.
    It shows how a local tourist attraction can utilise local natural resources to manufacture biodegradable products, and make a profit.

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