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Why Don’t We Turn Food Waste Into Renewable Fuel?

Discover how repurposing food waste into renewable fuel can address the pressing issues of food waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Join the movement to reduce food waste, mitigate environmental impact, and ensure a sustainable future for all.

If renewable fuel can be made with food waste, are we doing anything to make it happen?

It’s estimated that nearly 120 billion pounds of food are wasted every year, and that’s just in the United States. That amounts to approximately 130 billion meals that are lost to spoilage or thrown in the garbage at a time when food insecurity is nearing its highest levels since the financial crash of 2008.

At the same time, food waste generates about 376 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, which is a huge source of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to global warming.

We know that food is used for fuel in the human body, so is it such a stretch to consider the possibility that surplus food, which contributes to global warming, could be repurposed to help create renewable energy?

The Impact of Food Waste on Global Food Security

Food waste isn’t spoiled food. It’s perfectly edible meat, vegetables, and other foods that are tossed out for one reason or another.

Sources of food waste include:

  • Leftovers and other uneaten items from homes, restaurants, and shops
  • Manufacturing or supply chain problems
  • Crops left to rot in the field due to low prices or oversupply
  • Foods tossed in the trash due to not meeting standards for color or appearance

In most cases, there is nothing wrong with this food. It’s just considered “waste”. This is happening while food banks are running bare and begging for donations, money for food assistance is being cut, and more than 38 million Americans go hungry.

Food rescue programs are looking to save as much as they can and turn it into meals for those who need them, but still, the waste continues.

There is an innovative solution to the problem of food waste that could just solve another problem at the same time. What we can’t rescue and use to feed people can be converted into clean, renewable fuel.

Repurposing food waste is not a new concept. Food systems have already been transformed to combat a number of social and environmental problems.

So, why can’t we reduce food waste by using it to create renewable fuel?

How Biofuels are Reducing Food Waste and Helping Save the Planet

Biofuels are renewable energy products that are made from organic materials that can’t be eaten by humans. Many of the sources of biofuel are vegetation like corn stalks and grasses, but it can also be created out of so-called “yellow fats”, like used cooking oil and animal fat.

When properly converted, these products burn cleaner than fossil fuels. Due to the amount of materials available to make biofuel, they’re also renewable and plentiful.

The Pros and Cons of Biofuel

Converting inedible food waste to biofuel could help to reduce the amount of GHG emissions while also mitigating the problem of food waste. But those aren’t the only benefits of this type of renewable clean energy.

Other pros include:

  • Reducing the burden on municipalities
  • Reducing the amount of waste in landfills
  • Reducing the amount of methane gas released into in atmosphere
  • Creating carbon-negative energy
  • Reducing reliance on fossil fuels
  • Lowering the cost of energy production
  • Making renewable energy more widely available and affordable

However, the idea isn’t without its detractors. Some feel that the idea of converting food loss into fuel is unrealistic. An article published in the LA Times in 2021 called the idea a “sham” cooked up by Big Oil and gas companies.

While much of the negativity could be chalked up to a predictable response by the same people who think climate change is a hoax. there are some legitimate concerns about the viability of biofuels.

Potential drawbacks include:

  • Reduced effectiveness in cold temperatures
  • Potential for microbial growth in engines and machine parts
  • Cost of production
  • Negative impact on food prices
  • Fertilizers needed to grow biomass crops could impact the groundwater supply

However, a number of organizations are conducting research to reduce the negative impact of biofuels and boost the positive aspects. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) issues grants to research facilities to study the impact of biofuel production and find solutions.

Even Big Tech is looking into the potential of reducing food waste by implementing programs from within company ecosystems.

How Google is Tackling the Problem of Food Waste

Google is tackling the related problems of food waste, bursting landfills, and methane gas emissions by literally becoming the change they’d like to see in the world. First, they’ve made a commitment to cutting the food waste at their offices and production facilities to zero by 2025.

Second, they’re committed to repurposing food that would otherwise be wasted in corporate cafeterias in each of their 56 corporate offices throughout the world. Think of it in terms of serving gourmet leftovers for employee meals.

Not only that, the company is working with food manufacturers, processing plants, and suppliers to find innovative ways to convert potential waste into edible food, such as using vegetable scraps left after canning to make broth, upcycling other scraps in corporate kitchens, and incentivizing company chefs to create innovative menu options.

They’re also using technology to solve the problem. One pilot program will process waste onsite and use smart trash receptacles to sort waste products more efficiently. Outside of the auspices of their own corporate jurisdiction, Google is partnering with other companies to tackle the problems of food waste through supply chain transparency and tracking.

The Importance of Reducing Food Waste

Reducing food waste, and finding innovative ways to use what can’t be eaten, will help on multiple fronts including decreasing the environmental impact of food waste. The excess food can be used to relieve food insecurity in the communities that are hardest hit.

With less waste, the cost of food production and delivery will decrease. We’ll also reduce the need for landfills while eliminating the problem of food-related methane gas emissions.

Best of all, the inedible waste can be converted to clean, renewable energy that’s cheaper and widely available.

Final Thoughts

If you’re ready to become part of the solution, either by your individual actions, creating programs within your organization, or investment in sustainable industries, join with our network of like-minded people as we tackle these problems head-on.

This planet belongs to all of us, and it will take each person doing their part to tackle the issues that threaten its continued viability.

May 15, 2023

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