Municipalities across Canada are wising up to the dangers of food waste. Some cities, like Ottawa and Toronto, have already implemented green bin programs to collect organics, but these are still, unfortunately, the minority.
If you're wondering why your city should be tackling the food waste problem, read on!
Check out this article on how FoodCycler helped Nelson pilot Canada's first food recycling pre-treatment program
1. Food waste in landfills is terrible for the environment.
Food and other organics waste which decompose anaerobically (no air) generate methane gas (CH4). Methane is a potent greenhouse gas which is <25X worse for the environment than the CO2 from our cars (that number jumps to 84X over a 20 year period!)
Did You Know?
1 tonne of food waste is the GHG equivalent to 1 car driving on the road for a whole year?
Even those landfills with landfill gas capture/flare systems are not sufficient to fully reduce the harm caused by CH4. Given that 50% of the gasses created by landfill are methane, and that methane is upward of 21 X worse for the environment in the short term (84 X worse long-term) than CO2, landfills would have to capture approximately 95% of all gases emitted by landfill to simply break even.
As it is, landfill capture systems only claim to capture between 60-90% of landfill gasses - and even that is being seriously called into question.
Studies suggest 90% of the decay of food waste occurs in the first two to four weeks of landfilling, a period of time long before the gas collection for most landfills can be implemented. Effectively that means that much of the CH4 generated from our food waste goes uncollected to the atmosphere.
Source: JD Lindeberg, President, RRS
Not only is CH4 from food waste terrible for the environment, food waste in residential trash takes up a LOT of space in weekly waste collection vehicles. Food waste accounts for up to half of all materials collected by waste collection, and is some of the heaviest materials collected.
Due to sheer the sheer amount of waste, and the fact that food waste decomposes rapidly (which could cause health concerns for homeowners if not removed regularly), food waste requires more frequent waste collection. As all waste collection is done by vehicle, this means that massive amounts of truck emissions (CO2) are being generated primarily so that food waste can be collected in a timely manner.
2. Food waste in landfills can endanger local health.
Food waste is more than a smelly inconvenience. Organic matter that decomposes in landfill is up to 97% water, which can leak away from landfill sites as the matter decomposes. Liquid run-off from landfills (also caused by rainfall) is called leachate.
Leachate often contains dangerous chemicals and/or compounds. If not properly captured, leachate can leak into nearby water tables, water ways, agricultural soils and residential wells.
3. Food waste increase waste management costs.
Up to 50% of residential waste is composed of food waste and organic matter which could otherwise be composted. This material also happens to be upwards of 95% water, as we mentioned.
This means that up to 50% of residential trash is essentially just "trucking around water." This weighs down collection trucks and grossly increases the costs associated with waste management.
Food waste in household trash requires regular collection, which increases how much a municipality pays in hauling fees ($100-$120/Ton), transfer station fees ($16/Ton), and disposal fees ($60-$120/Ton).
Without food waste taking up space in residential trash, waste collection regularity could be reduced, as could the associated costs. So too would the per-ton costs of waste disposal, as food waste is considerably heavier than most other types of waste.
4. Food waste in household trash attracts animals.
Animals have a highly developed sense of smell - much more than our own silly button noses! So if you're smelling the stinky food waste in your trash, you can just imagine how your neighbouring wildlife is getting a whiff!
Pests are a common frustration for homeowners. Animals which get into your trash when you leave it out for collection doubles and triples the amount of work required of you on collection day. If you live in an area with bears, this can also mean investing in bear-proof bins - which carry a hefty price tag. Bears are also, ahem, dangerous, and have been known to attack people over food (even the rotten kind).
For those communities which have organics collection already in place, pests are still a serious concern - green bins are like a five star buffet!
Other considerations of food waste in household trash:
5. Landfills are filling up - fast.
Landfills are not a "set it and forget it" solution. The average lifespan of a landfill is about 10 years - and the amount of waste being generated is only increasing with every year that passes. This is particularly true of food waste.
The speed at which landfills are filling up far exceeds our communities' abilities to develop new ones. Further, landfills are exorbitantly expensive to establish and operate, and pose a myriad of health and safety concerns for nearby residents. Landfills also lower property values for homeowners living in close proximity.
6. Food Waste Has Real Value
As is evident from the cities which have adopted composting programs (such as San Francisco), food waste is a highly valuable commodity - not waste at all!
Organic waste which is composted does not emit methane gas at all. This is because composting breaks down food waste aerobically as opposed to anaerobically (like landfills). Composting organic waste (including yard waste), which, as we've seen accounts for more than half of what is dumped at landfill, will prolong established landfills' lifetimes. Removing food waste from waste streams will also reduce the need for such regular waste collections, and will reduce the associated costs of "trucking around water."
Aside from its value in cutting costs to municipalities (and taxpayers), food waste also offers profit opportunities. Compost is a highly sought-after commodity in agriculture and gardening. The more controlled the composting "batch" (ie. the less likely to be contaminated from other types of waste) the more valuable it is to consumers and industry.
Rather than wasting this valuable material, communities could profit from an untapped resource that's sitting right there in their trash cans!
Check out how your community can:
eliminate household waste at source
reduce waste collection
preserve landfill space
reduce the risk of local pests
generate incredibly valuable agriculture-ready, community-made compost
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