The Environmental Impact of Organic Waste in the Landfill: Why Diverting Your Organic Waste is so Important

Food waste in the landfill

 

 

Although we have touched on this topic briefly in previous blog posts, it is important to address solely, as food waste is not going anywhere, anytime soon. Naturally, this topic hits close to home for us, as it is important and imperative to our business for a variety of reasons. Many of us, as consumers, know that diverting your organic waste from the landfill is the ‘right’ thing to do for the environment – but do we really know why? I strongly believe that a large portion of society blindly diverts their waste because their region has told them to do so – but what are the hard benefits of doing so? We are going to break it down for you, so that the next time you go to throw out your organic waste (in the garbage or organics bin/cart), you can make an informed choice/decision, and know the implications or benefits.

 

Organic waste, specifically food waste, is something that we as consumers inherently create due to our consumption patterns. Organic waste, generated through the consumption of food, comes from all levels of the food systems, from production to consumption. Did you know that ⅓ of the food produced is wasted? Interestingly enough, according to the United Nations, over 50% of food waste occurs in the production portion of the food sector, which includes the manufacturing of processed foods, as well as the handling and storing of all foods. This is a pretty staggering number, considering the amount of food that makes it to market as is. The other 50% portion of food waste comes from the consumer end, and this includes expired foods, food scrapings and food biproducts (such as egg shells, peelings, etc.). Either way you look at it, there is a lot of food waste that is created every day, by many levels of the food distribution system, some of it unavoidable.

 

The Problem with Food Waste

 

Although food wasted at any point in the food distribution system is not sustainable for the environment, the further along food goes in the distribution system the more resources that are wasted. Every time food is wasted, all the resources it took for that food to get to where it is, are wasted also. For instance, if food is wasted at the farm it is produced, not many resources were used to make that food in the first place. However, if the food is waste at the end market, many resources have been used to get it there (think packaging, storing and transportation). The main thing to keep in mind here is that food and its distribution are unavoidable, as naturally food is essential for everyday life. With the distribution of food, comes food waste. With that said, at any stage of distribution process, food waste should be properly diverted from the landfill.

 

Why Diverting Food Waste from The Landfill is Important

 

There are many reasons why food waste should be diverted from the landfill, but these are the main two environmental reasons.

 

Climate Change

When food waste is thrown into the garbage, the last thought that goes through the average consumer’s mind is climate change. However, food waste is a leading contributor to climate change. Any organic waste that is thrown into the landfill to decompose contributes to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Specifically, decomposing food emits methane. Methane is the leading gas that contributes to GHGs and climate change, as it is known to be nearly 30 times worse than carbon dioxide. Overall, the improper disposal of organic waste leads to 8% of the world’s GHG emissions. That is a lot, when you consider that all those gases could otherwise be trapped and redistributed (but I will get to that further below!).

 

Landfill Space

 

Just as you would not want to throw plastic or metal recyclables into the landfill because they take up unnecessary space in our limited landfills, the same premise applies. Not only is food waste, much like recyclables, a wasted resource in the landfill, it also takes up unnecessary space that could be occupied by real garbage. Landfills only have a limited capacity and then new ones have to be created (which is naturally not good for the environment as it requires land space).

 

The Environmental Benefit of Diverting Your Organic Waste

 

As said earlier, any food wasted is not ideal, but necessary, given the food distribution system. As long as we divert from the landfill, organic waste can actually have a positive benefit for the environment and for humans, alike. Depending on where you live as a consumer or what organic waste provider you use as a commercial business, your organic waste will be treated differently, but the two main methods, as listed below, are a benefit to the environment.

 

Composting

 

Here in the Niagara Region, household organic waste is brought to a composting facility, where your food waste is processed to do just that – create compost! Utilizing all kinds of organic waste, this system creates a high quality, very nutrient dense compost that is excellent for distribution on plants and crops. Some residents and business owners skip the service entirely and have backyard or small commercial composters that achieve the same goal. This is great for replenishing your gardens and soils. Giving nutrients back to the environment is highly beneficial to combat soil degradation and soil quality issues.

 

However great compost is, there is a missing renewable energy factor that is missed in this process. Since the composting is generally done outside, methane gases are not able to be captured, which ultimately still contributes to GHG emissions and climate change. That is where the BioGas process is superior.

 

BioGas Process

 

The BioGas process is likely a system that the average consumer is unfamiliar with, as it is not necessarily mainstream, and rarely spoken about (waste always seems to be the last thing on people’s minds). The BioGas process is able to create a high nutrient fertilizer, just as the composting process, but is also able to capture all emitted methane gases. Not only are these gases now not being emitted into the environment, but they are also able to be reutilized and turned into a renewable energy source (either renewable natural gas or electricity). To simplify this process for the readers of this blog, the BioGas process uses an anaerobic digester that allows the organic waste to decompose at a faster rate, creating microorganisms that generate methane gases (just as it would in natural decomposition, just faster). Those gases are captured as the food continues to decompose. Given this, the biogas process provides the best of both worlds, compost and methane derived renewable energy. This makes the process sound very simple, and at its core it is, but it is quite a technical process requiring a high level of knowledge about decomposition and gases.

 

At Davidson Environmental, this is how we handle all of the organic waste that comes into our facility. All of it is diverted to a BioGas facility to be given the greatest opportunity to benefit the environment.

 

Discussion

 

Ultimately, food waste is unavoidable, given that food is essential to everyday life. How we handle that food waste can make a big difference, especially when disposed of properly, organic waste has the opportunity to benefit the environment. So the next time you properly divert your food waste, you can think about how you are doing your part to help reduce GHGs and curb climate change. If you are like many people and do not take part in an organic program, I hope that this blog will aid in the decision to start, as the environmental benefits far outweigh its inconvenience (if it even is an inconvenience- I personally think it is easier [everything has a spot, and my garbage never smells!]).

 

If you have any questions about properly diverting your organic waste or are a business looking to start a program, we are here to help. Our service area spans across Southern Ontario, from Owen Sound to Niagara Region to Windsor, to assist commercial businesses in diverting their organic waste. Reach out today to start making your food waste a positive benefit for the environment. 905-988-9926 or sales@davidsonenvironmental.ca

 

 

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