Why Are Corporations and Municipalities Moving to Zero Waste?

Municipalities and states are mandating that large producers of waste food must not send it to a landfill. The administration understands that waste food has the largest impact on the environment, and large corporations are already striving for zero waste (and finding value in the waste they can recycle).

There is a general movement among much of the public that zero waste is a benefit. For many, this is driven by its association with global warming. Even for those who don't believe in global warming, there is an understanding that zero waste is better for us individually (and by implication, better for the environment).

Stakeholders in corporations want to know that the company they invest in, work for, or do business with, is friendly to the environment. A corporation that claims zero waste is viewed as one that is better than one that is not, and a company that claims it is carbon neutral is even better. In the EU, large corporations must report their carbon footprint on their annual reports, just as they report profit and loss and a balance sheet. This awareness is spreading around the globe.

While the movement toward being greener is driving the movement towards zero waste, the public are getting closer to landfills. What used to be "over the hill" or "miles away" is now closer to home as the population grows and suburbia spreads. A landfill that was 50 miles away from houses a decade ago is closer than ever. Landfills smell, and people don't like them.

The main cause of the smell is from rotting food. While people like to recycle paper, plastic, and metals, it is waste food that is the major cause of pollution and greenhouse gasses. When organic material is buried on a landfill, it decomposes in the absence of oxygen to create methane (CH4) which is 72 times worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2).

In states where population density is high, this closeness to landfills is a major problem. Not only are smells an issue but finding the space to dump trash is becoming increasingly difficult. Administrations are realizing that we never throw things away; we just move the problem somewhere else.

If, instead, we can recycle all that paper, plastic, and metal, we don't need the space on landfills. But what do we do with the waste food, which at 21 percent of the trash usually makes up the largest component of landfills? If we can solve this problem, we can reduce or eliminate smells and make a significant impact on the environment (by the reduction of greenhouse gasses) as well.

Organizations typically focus on recycling paper, plastics, and metals first because these are relatively clean and often have value. Waste food has the most impact on the environment, and because it is smelly, is usually something most people don't want to deal with.

Municipalities and states are mandating that large producers of waste food must not send such waste to the landfill. The focus of these laws is on the organics because the administration understands that waste food has the largest impact on the environment and because large corporations are already striving for zero waste (and finding value in the waste they can recycle).

As the laws are taking effect, organizations are seeking solutions to their messiest problem: 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted annually worldwide and food composting – on the global level – is where the world is headed in its responsibility to forwarding the fight against global warming.

New York City is one of the first cities to act on reducing waste – however, similar zero waste initiatives have been enacted in Austin, Texas, and California, and I expect the green movement to spread throughout the nation.

What is needed, though, is a solution for all commercial, industrial, and military producers of waste food as time winds down before these companies must comply. The food waste plight is a familiar one that helped spur the creation of the LFC (Liquid Food Composter), designed to digest up to 4,000 pounds of waste food per day and help businesses better understand and manage company resources while reducing waste. 

Inside the machine, waste is digested in the presence of oxygen to produce CO2. This is different from a landfill, where the waste decomposes in the absence of oxygen to create CH4. The production of CO2 is carbon neutral; that is, plants absorbed CO2 to make the food, and that same amount of carbon is returned to the atmosphere by the digestion inside the LFC.

The output of the LFC is a liquid that goes down the drain. In this way, the LFC is like a stainless-steel stomach that takes food in at one end and sends waste down the drain at the other end. Instead of having trucks on the road to haul all of this waste, gravity is used to send the waste to the sewage treatment plant. Gravity is a lot friendlier to the environment than diesel trucks in our cities spewing pollution and clogging the streets.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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