Uneaten food - how to turn a public problem into a public good

Posted on September 09, 2015
Posted By: Shlomi Palas

America throws away enough food to feed... well, America.

Forty percent of all food produced in the United States is never eaten. So we are producing close to twice the food that is consumed.

Americans throw away $165 Billion a year worth of food.

This equates to 20 lbs. per person per month.

About 35 million tons of food was dumped in landfills across the U.S. in 2012, compared to 29 million tons of plastic and 24 million tons of paper. This waste is not the result of people simply failing to clean their plate.

Much of organic produce does not make it to market because of aesthetic imperfections. A perfectly edible peach with a dimple on its surface loses 2/3 of its value. To ship, store and sell this peach is a losing proposition. This dimpled peach will end up in a landfill where it will have plenty of company. The EPA maintains that 20% of all landfill waste is food.

Wasted food does not die a quite death. As the food rots, it releases methane in to the atmosphere. Methane is 20X more potent in its ability to trap heat than CO2.

The biogas industry cannot overhaul the nation's food production and distribution system to prevent food waste. But it can turn waste into energy, while saving landfill space and eliminating climate-warming methane gas.

It takes a liability and turns it into an asset. I hate to use a much overused expression, but waste-to-energy is truly a "win-win." Even a Win-Win needs to be sold. WTE needs to be sold to the financial, government, and regulatory communities, but food waste is an issue that the industry can use to create buy-in from the general public. In a time of cheap energy, any tool that can be used to promote awareness for WTE needs to be used.

And wasted food rotting in a landfill is a powerful image. It is shameful. It creates a sense of collective guilt. It instinctively leads people to say, "something should be done about that."

The Earth Engineering Center (EEC) of Columbia University estimates that U.S. municipal solid waste (MSW) incinerated in waste-to-energy (WTE) power plants could meet 12% of the country's total electricity demand could be met. Yet, on average, about 11% of the MSW is diverted to WTE and around 35% is recycled or composted. The remainder (54%) is landfilled.

But there is progress and that landfill number will get lower as WTE projects take hold in areas like Johnston, Rhode Island and Charlotte, North Carolina.

The biogas industry needs to seize upon the food waste problem as a powerful story that can engage the public to get educated on the WTE market.

We are fortunate to be positioned to turn a public problem into a public good.

Authored By:
Mr. Shlomi Palas, CEO, is a clean-tech executive and entrepreneur with a large network in private and government sectors in North and South America, Europe, China and Africa. Prior to Blue Sphere, he was a business entrepreneur in the biodiesel industry, carrying out activities in China, Brazil and Africa. Earlier, as a Senior Partner at Mitzuv, a leading management consulting firm, Mr. Palas worked in China with the IFC (International

Other Posts by: Shlomi Palas

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September, 10 2015

Richard Vesel says

Total conversion of all the food and cellulosic (paper/wood/ag residue) to fuel + water + fertilizer/compost, per year...what would that equal in TBtu?

Boston experience can be a good pilot site for thousands of tons.


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