Rob Grim 2014-08-28 06:30:44
An Opportunity for the Plumbing Industry? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food waste is the single-largest component of municipal solid waste sent to landfills, and every year, more than 33 million tons of it ends up there. When it decomposes, food waste produces methane gas, an environmentally harmful greenhouse gas that is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. To battle the greenhouse gas emissions generated by food waste, states such as Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island are enacting legislation to ban it from landfills. Stipulations apply with each of these bans, such as applicability to institutions producing more than one ton per week of food waste, which corresponds to most large restaurants, universities, hotels, banquet halls and food processing plants. Twenty-one other states have enacted organic bans, which primarily prevent leaf and yard waste (another source of methane) from going into landfills. Those states are Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. While composting has received a lot of attention for food waste diversion, it is not for everyone. Another means of diverting food scraps from landfills and already used in 52% of homes, is the food waste disposer. In addition, at capable wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), food waste is converted into renewable energy through a process called anaerobic digestion. This energy can then be used to power the plant, reducing municipal costs. Anaerobic digesters (AD) were originally developed in the United States to address the methane gas produced by farm animals, but they are now being privatized as a viable means to recover energy from organic waste. One impetus behind landfill bans is a decrease in the available space for them. According to the EPA, the number of active landfills has decreased from 2,500 in 1995 to 1,900 in 2011. Starting in the 1970s, state and federal regulation began increasingly stringent oversight covering a broad array of areas including permitting, operations, groundwater protection, etc. The current oversight and enforcement of applicable laws (including federal) falls almost entirely on the states themselves. Across the United States in 2012, Americans disposed of just over 250 million tons of mixed solid waste (MSW). Food waste was the second- largest component of MSW, at 36 million tons, but also had the lowest recycling rate at only 5%. (see Chart 1) Composting as an alternative for dealing with food waste is not without challenges. The collection of food waste for composting does not yet have an ideal solution, requiring a place to house the receptacles of the decomposing, odorous food waste awaiting pickup by trucks for transport to a compost facility. These receptacles also create issues with bees, fruit flies and rodents, especially in the summer months. Does the plumbing industry have the solution for organics diversion from landfills? An ideal solution for converting food waste into a transportable medium to deliver it to facilities prepared to deal with it, such as WWTPs or anaerobic digesters, would seem to entail grinding or pulping the food and piping the slurry to an end destination or a holding area (tank) via pumps. Processes that grind or macerate food, involving piping and/or plumbing with short or long pump distances, certainly sound like situations the plumbing industry deals with every day. In this possible solution, the slurry is transported to anaerobic digesters via liquid waste haulers, which Convert the food waste into renewable energy in the form of electricity, natural gas or fertilizer.The EPA estimates that diversion of half the food waste currently sent to landfills could produce enough energy to power 2.5 million homes. Last year, the Cleveland Browns Hospitality Group used an organic waste recycling system to redirect 35 tons of food scraps. During the course of a single football game, food waste for both prepreparation and post-serving generates between 4 and 5 tons of waste. This food slurry was transported to a local anaerobic digester facility operated by Cleveland-based Quasar Energy Group.The Cleveland Browns case is one example of the partnerships developing between InSinkErator and other public and private entities with an interest in working on organics recycling systems. The effects could be enormous—if commercial kitchens recycled the 2.25 tons of food waste potentially generated each week, they would create enough electricity to power 42 single-family homes. The diversion process would also reduce the use of garbage bags, trash pickups and pest control costs. As commercial entities and municipalities look for ways to reduce greenhouse gases, reduce costs and protect the environment, these plumbed organics recycling systems and the plumbing industry will have a significant role to play.
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