Turning Scraps Into Power: Waste Digesters in Recycling

Humans produce over 2 billion tons of solid waste annually worldwide. About 44% of that waste includes foods and organics. 

The World Bank estimates that number will grow to 3.4 billion tons by 2050. High-income countries, including the United States, generate about 34% of the world’s waste, even though they account for only 16% of the global population. 

Dealing With Food Waste

In the U.S. and most other countries, sanitation is handled locally, and most food waste ends up in landfills. Some people do use organic waste for compost, fertilizer, or animal food, but most of it is discarded entirely. The World Bank reports that food waste accounts for nearly 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. 

One way to handle food and organic waste is to turn it into biogas and other soil products. The American Biogas Council (ABC) reports the U.S. has more than 2,300 sites producing biogas nationwide. The council estimates as many as 2,000 new sites could be used to recycle food scraps into biogas in the near future. According to the ABC, 15,000 sites could be developed to produce biogas from various sources, generating as much as 103 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity each year. 

Private companies are also working to get a piece of the biogas pie. HomeBiogas, started in Israel with U.S. headquarters in New York, has placed its food waste recycling systems in more than 600 schools worldwide. 

Teaching Recycling

HomeBiogas supplies instructors who can train teachers to use the system to educate children about the importance of reducing food waste. They developed an outdoor classroom program that integrates the HomeBiogas package into the existing curriculum. In this system, food waste creates methane gas that can be used for cooking.

Their educational materials cover subjects including climate change, methane, landfills, renewable energy, organic waste, global warming, circular economy, and biofertilizer. 

A HomeBiogas unit includes the waste digester, visual aids for the classroom, and a small stove that uses the methane biogas produced by the food waste to cook food. Scraps are fed back into the digester to create even more methane.

The HomeBiogas system also produces liquid fertilizer, which students can use for garden projects to grow food to be prepared in the school cafeteria. Those scraps are fed back to the digester, as well. 

The systems are made from 100% recyclable materials and will last about 15 years. 

The HomeBiogas system costs about USD $900, but the company will work with governments or school systems to subsidize the cost of the units. U.S. schools can apply for state or federal grants to help fund the project. 

Although the HomeBiogas system is only in one U.S. school system now, the company predicts it will have units in at least 50 systems by the end of the 2023-2024 school year. 

Yair Teller, HomeBiogas’s Co-Founder and CBO, says, “I believe in educating the change we want to see in the world. With the HomeBiogas systems in educational centers we are educating the future generation hands-on about circular economy, food security, waste management, permaculture, community gardening and so much more. While learning about the benefits for the environment and the reduction of GreenHouse Gas Emissions, I believe we are promoting community resilience.”

Getting The Recycling Word Out

With climate change and environmental conservation issues in the news nearly every day, it’s difficult to ignore the importance of taking measures to reduce human impact on the planet. 

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) partnered with JASON Learning Industries to create a K-12 recycling education curriculum with STEM learning experiences. The organizations collaborated to launch the 2023-24 Youth Recycling Contest. The theme, “Design for Recycling,” encourages students to enhance existing products with recycling as a priority.. 

ISRI and JASON also developed a recycling-themed curriculum and activities for educators. This material is free to use and is designed for grades K-12.

Recycling initiatives have been around for a while. The first Earth Day launched on April 22, 1970. Its genesis was rooted in increased awareness of the human impact on the environment. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring sold more than 500,000 copies and brought the issue of environmental responsibility to the forefront of the public consciousness.

According to RoadRunner Modern Waste Recycling, the first recycling mill in the U.S. was built in Conshohocken, Penn., while University City, Mo., offered the first curbside recycling program in 1974. Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in 1976, granting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to control hazardous waste generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal. It also provided a framework for how to deal with non-hazardous solid waste. 

Recycling Ramps Up

In the 1980s and 1990s, fears that the U.S. was running out of landfill space prompted more recycling initiatives. By the end of the 1980s, the country had over 1,000 curbside recycling programs. 

California led the way in recycling innovation by introducing “single-stream” recycling in 1995. This system allowed residents served by curbside programs to leave all their recycle items in one container rather than sorting it by type. The items would then be sorted at the recycling facility itself. 

By the mid-2000s, over 31% of Americans participated in some form of recycling. By 2014, the number was up to 36.4%. 

Beyond the obvious environmental impacts, the EPA estimates recycling efforts in the U.S. account for 681,000 jobs and $37.8 billion in wages. According to the ABC, growth in the U.S. biogas industry could provide as many as 374,000 short-term construction jobs to build new facilities, creating 25,000 permanent jobs to operate them.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.