We are also rebuilding some of our plants to sort waste with machine learning. The initial tests are really promising.
Several of them are already sorting out most plastic using spectrometer-sensors, so we don’t need to do it manually. In combination with the machine learning the tests get it up to 99.9% or higher.
In my household I suspect that most of that is potato peelings, onion skins, orange, apple, and banana peel, teabags, etc.
If you drink tea five times a day you have 10 g of teabags.
So, what is the definition of food waste? If it is food that could be eaten then in my household of four people it is very close to zero. But still the kitchen compost bin is always full.
Who drinks tea five times a day??
Invite people to come down to hand-harvest the rest of it. Charge them a nominal fee (if at all).
Recycling metals is substantially profitable, because scrap metal is actually worth something. Making new metal from old metal requires far less energy than making new metals from raw ore, even factoring in the costs of transportation and processing.
Does collecting and composting food waste actually result in a net reduction of our use of finite resources, or is it just a sop to make us feel better about throwing away food? Is this really recycling, or is it a waste of resources at one step removed?
How much fuel do you have to burn to turn that waste food into usable nitrates? If it requires less fuel than the Haber-Bosch process, then why is it not profitable?
Haber-Bosch process isn't a free lunch where free energy just pops into existence.
Not that cheap. In the aforementioned metal recycling example, the energy is typically coming from fossil fuels too; refining aluminum from ore takes an insane amount of electrical power. Even if you do that with renewable energy, that's still that much power that can't be used for other things that must be supplied by another power source (e.g. fossil fuels.)
So fertilizer plants in those areas suck up that cheap CH4 to reform it into H2 and heat up the Haber-Bosch process to make ammonia and then into more transportable fertilizers like urea.
That was clearly intended as a zing, but it just shows you aren't thinking about this right. Conventional ammonia production is vastly less efficient than just composting your garbage. Be real here. Bacteria literally do the job at a labor cost of zero and all you need to do is keep it in a stable environment.
What hurts is what always hurts: scale. If the composting facility is across town, you also need to haul the biomass around and haul the fertilizer back. If the industry is tooled up to spread pellet fertilizer it's going to see an immediate cost moving to equipment that can spread and till compost.
But stop pretending that there's an "efficiency" argument to baking nitrogen into ammonia in a 20 barr, 500C pressure cooker. That's nonsense.
The classic example is plastic versus re-usable glass bottles - plastic nearly always proves to be more sustainable than glass, because glass bottles require vastly more energy to manufacture, they're much heavier to transport, they require surprisingly large amounts of energy to wash and they have relatively short average lifespans. The plastic waste issue is quite effectively solved by just burning it - plastic waste is a perfectly good hydrocarbon fuel.
I'd suggest checking out a resource like "City to Soil": https://www.gerrygillespie.net/city-to-soil.html or "Ecologically sustainable recovery of bio-waste" https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medien/37... or anything at "Zero Waste Europe" https://zerowasteeurope.eu/.
The key points: Food is the basis of the human economy. Collecting and composting food waste closes the loop and completes the nutrient cycle in the soil we use to grow food.
Not to mention: half the problems we have with traditional dirty landfills is that the unsorted food waste starts to decompose (releasing methane) and creates a hot environment that causes everything else to degrade in a toxic manner. As soon as you take it out, you have a "dry" landfill, where currently unrecyclable single-use things can be stored in GPS-tagged storage sites, until someone finds a better use for them and/or we start to phase them out.
How about the pollution caused by burning plastic waste? Take dioxins, for just one example. I've read that they are released when you burn plastic (don't have a link handy).
I don't think anyone is, just that its less bad than the alternatives.
You don't drive, presumably you walk or cycle then. Each of those activities have negative environmental externalities compared to not doing them, after all you have to consume extra calories. So while each is infinitely better than driving, they aren't environmentally beneficial.
With your plastic v glass example, you seem to be using sustainability in a way that I wouldn't recognise, to me sustainability is about how long you can keep doing something regardless of how much energy it requires (up to a point, and assuming clean energy sources). The glass is infinitely recyclable, the plastic isn't. Especially when burned, so I would say the glass is sustainable.
Exactly - it's about reuse (ie. infinitely recyclable), and the shift in thinking that comes along with that.
Burning plastic releases toxic byproducts into the local environment, and requires us to use more fossil fuel hydrocarbons to make new plastic.
On the other hand, instead of transporting glass bottles across half the country, why not refill them in a local bottling plant, using local produce? Glass bottles can be washed 50-100 times, and after that they can simply be remade into new glass.
In Germany today, there are 5 standard glass beer bottles that everyone uses, so they can be refilled by local breweries all around the country. If a country is thinking of implementing a similar system, it would also be wise to invest in container deposit scheme, to ensure the bottles get returned in a good condition for reuse. Return rates in Germany are upwards of 98%.
It wasn't long ago, when our parents/grandparents/great-grandparents were getting milk delivered in glass bottles, to be washed, refilled and reused. We could easily go back to those more sustainable plastic-free times.
> regardless of how much energy it requires (up to a point, and assuming clean energy sources)
The world isn't yet powered through clean energy sources in any significant way. Electricity production runs mostly on fossil fuels, and then electricity is currently only a part of the equation - heating and transportation is still mostly powered by burning hydrocarbons pulled from the ground.
It is not just valid, but very important, to consider sustainability in context of system at the whole. Greedy algorithms don't work here. A glass bottle may be "infinitely recyclable", but if doing the actual recycling involves using energy from unsustainable sources, it's not a sustainable behaviour in itself. Sustainability is an end-to-end thing; if any link isn't, the whole chain isn't.
Now that we've established that glass recycling isn't currently a sustainable practice, we can still consider whether it's better or worse than alternative unsustainable practices. Regular "single use, thin plastic bottles, destination: landfill" approach seems idiotic. But alternatives involve "thick, refillable plastic bottles" (something I recall Germany used to do), or "single use, thin plastic bottles, destination: power plant" which isn't as dumb as it sounds - if it could be made the primary fuel source for said power plants, it's a step up. I reserve judgment on the alternatives, as I have no data. And it's kind of a problem today: regular people don't have an easy way to review end-to-end performance of such strategies. So they vote for convenience, or for whatever looks ecologic.
Burning hydrocarbons has still place in a sustainable future - they're a great high-density energy store, after all. But to make the chain end-to-end sustainable, we'd have to be using clean and sustainable sources to take back all the emissions and to manufacture more hydrocarbons.
EDIT: And to be clear, I'm always biased in favour of reusing and (then) recycling. But the energy calculation has to make sense, because sustainability is in big part an energy management problem (the other big part is habitability management problem - not doing net damage to the ecosystem; but, assuming the will to do it, it also quickly becomes a subset of energy management).
Everything else comes down to barriers in the economic and political domains.
Here in the real world of 2019, energy is the dominant factor. If we need to dig up landfills to recover materials in 2100, so be it - right now, we have a ticking clock to mitigate the worst effects of the impending climate crisis. We simply cannot afford to waste time on wishful thinking and idealism, we need to cut our carbon emissions hard and fast.
You were talking about burning plastic bottles a minute ago???
Agreed we need to minimise energy usage and move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, plastic usage risks creating a market for fossil fuels, where petrol/gas become cheap byproducts, so it isn't a straight forward trade off.
The way I see it, we need to optimize our energy use and ecosystem damage output, until we can switch over completely to surplus clean energy. After that, a lot of ecology talk stops to matter. For instance, with surplus energy put to use in collecting, recycling & emission capture, we could use disposable plastics to our hearts' content.
Unfortunately, as you say, widespread deployment of clean & sustainable energy sources comes down to barriers in the economic and political domains. That's why I feel modern ecology needs to optimize for reducing energy use, even if it might mean preferring some locally suboptimal-looking solutions that turn out to be globally more efficient.
Not really because I wrote it.
I could have written 'glass recycling has the possibility to be sustainable', but instead I wrote 'glass recycling is sustainable assuming X'
You could complain if I didn't state my assumptions, but I did.
I currently buy 100% green electricity, I could use that to recycle glass today and that would be sustainable. So this isn't some hypothetical, it is possible today.
That isn't to say that I disagree with your points though. It isn't an easy problem, and 'best' now, doesn't necessarily match 'best' in an ideal world.
Does converting fossil fuels into food fertilizer cause pollution? Transfering waste from an oilfield to a landfill isn't inherently unecological.
Directly measuring the physiological energy content for millions of food products would be impractical.
once upon a time we fed food waste to animals to "recycle" the caloric content. Think table scraps(but not meat) going to pigs or chickens.
Would be interesting if we close the loop on this household content
Edit: Added note that I meant "vegan" scraps.
I wonder if cockcroach protein powder would bypass brain wasting disease and other nasties.
The toilets fed directly into the pig sty. Very directly down a short chute add though a hole. An eager pig snout poked through the hole could make contact. Never before nor never again have I been so startled.
Pigs don’t eat human faeces...
Chickens will eat egg shells, and it's apparently a good source of minerals for them. You do have to scrunch them up, or else, from what I understand, they start associating egg shells with food, and start pecking their own eggs.
Much of the 'compost' you receive at big-box stores is treated human waste: https://www.epa.gov/biosolids/frequent-questions-about-bioso...
Not much goes to waste in the USA on an industrial scale.
I don't see anything on that page to support this specific claim.
Sewage sludge is feces
Illustrating that the next best existing option after composting is landfill, says nothing of the delta separating the two on the efficacy axis. It only speaks to a lack of altnernatives separating composting and landfill.
I'd argue that burying your food waste in any land that food will potentially be grown in is infinitely superior to sticking it in a landfill where food will never be deliberately grown.
From my perspective, living on a rural property with an outhouse where all food waste and human waste is buried and eventually grown food from your comment strikes me as ridiculous. I add obvious value to my land burying this waste, it completely escapes reuse, effectively exiting the system, when I put it in the dumpster.
On my property in particular, runoff is not an issue (desert). From what I've seen there's mostly increased insect activity in the compost area. I view it as more generally increasing the fertility of the area from waste using minimal effort.
Most of it is consumed by other lifeforms before I grow anything there. But those lifeforms are residents of my land and will continue to multiply (and die) here. Their increased activity effectively locks up the resources and I can leverage that with a large garden when time permits.
You might make your distributed practices even more efficient with vermicompost / bokashi; by selecting an organism with known beneficial outputs to metabolize the waste you'll end up with a higher conversion to usable nutrients and beneficial microbes for your plants.
Have you got any sources for the usually?
Any ex landfill I've seen just has vents to the open air, and mentions of landfill gas never give the impression its mainstream.
But as others have been saying, it makes much more sense to simply bury the food in your garden. Or collect food waste on a municipal level, which has, for example, been the law in Germany since 2015.
The "dry fermentation" system used in Munich is a particularly good example. They collect food waste in the city, compost and ferment it in a big sealed hall near the soccer stadium, wait 12 weeks for the bacteria to work, collect the resulting biogas to put into their gas network (or power garbage trucks), and sell the leftover organic compost and fertilisers to local residents and farmers. A closed and sustainable cycle.
Disclosure, I work for a startup that turns this into a circular food production system, from food waste, via insects to fish and vegetables via aquaponics.
 EU rules say eggs should be marked “Best before date” as 28 days after they have been laid, but stored propperly they are good for at least double that time. (Swedish) http://www.svenskaagg.se/?p=19895 In the UK supposedly 720 million eggs are thrown away each year. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/eggs...
"With our unique approach to development, we help our partners design their projects so that they can capture and understand reliable data which they can act upon."
That's a massive amount, and that is just waste in the household, not waste in the farm or factory.
I can understand some wastage of salad and berries etc, but they're all lighter stuff. How can the average westerner waste 2kg food a week???
- 1.5 McDonald's quarter-pounder sandwiches 
- or 2.5 portions of McDonald's medium fries 
That seems like a lot of food to waste. Like that just doesn't pass the smell test...
Maybe they're counting liquids like milk too, that's gone past the expiration date? Otherwise I just can't wrap my head around this.
On that note, it’s nearing time for me to make more limoncello/orangecello...
I still don’t think I’m particularly efficient, just that I waste a lot less than I used to, and if I could fit a freezer chest in my apartment, I know a few ways that I could waste even less. Mainly what I do now is to shop at a local grocery just about every day, I’m blessed with an abundance of those and good options, and try not to buy more than I will cook in a day or two. This has become easier since switching to an almost entirely meat, egg and vegetable diet so I don’t have dairy products, soy products, bread, pasta, cereals, noodles, beans, or anything besides my spices, dried herbs, salts, oils and vinegars sitting around. Despite that, I still end up throwing away more than I would like every few weeks, but probably not 2kg a week.
Had I grown up in a household with people that knew how to manage a household, it would have been a lot less trial and error, but with our over reliance on packaged foods instead of just what you can find in the produce section and at the butcher, probably a lot of people like me are growing up not learning how to manage their pantries and fridges.
That’s without even factoring in restaurants. It isn’t uncommon for people to not finish their food and leave it rather than taking the rest with them, and more so the more people eat out. Rather than finishing their leftovers at home, if they even took it home, people will often just go out to eat again the next day.
Refrigeration in general encourages the behavior, without delivering on convenience since you generally have to reheat or partially recook the food only to have something inferior to the more convenient, freshly made by someone else option.
People I've known feel accomplished just by asking to take leftovers home and placing them in the refrigerator with the feigned intention of eating them, knowing full well they will spoil and go to waste. It's an absurdity; they add packaging waste (often plastic at least in the bag) to their charade, mostly because they don't want to appear wasteful at the location they didn't finish their meal, and wish to dispose of it in the privacy of their home after spending energy on refrigerating it for a week.
Then if you throw some sociopathy into the mix, there's an even greater sense of accomplishment in knowing what you're doing is actually increasing the waste by pointlessly packaging up the food destined for the landfill because you'll never actually eat it. Inconveniencing the staff to package your leftovers on top of it is just gravy.
Have you ever been to a restaurant? Most people throw out over 25% of the food on their plates.
This is all a symptom of a distorted market place. Food's too cheap thanks to subsidized farming.
I've worked in a few. As a European I'd say food waste was lower than that.
Id expect restaurant food waste to be higher, as they can't personalise portion sizes as effectively, so unless most people eat out most days, I don't see how that could account for all the waste.
But apparently it does? I really hope peelings etc are included, because even then there's still a family out there wasting 3kg+ of food/person/wk, just to balance my family out.
Looks like it's about twice as often as in Europe. Interestingly Asia/Pacific is even higher (cheap street food FTW!)
It is easy to order a smaller portion of most meals. The problem lies on the client in this case.
If that seems wasteful to you, then I assert you're not looking at the big picture. Habitual overeating causes even worse portion control in the future, which causes even more food waste in the long run.
You could also cover your plate and put it in the fridge. Doing that requires the same amount of self-control as your prescription of clearing your plate in the trash once you're full. Both are hard for many people to do.
It's easier to exercise restraint when serving than when eating. For example, Google successfully reduced food consumption and food waste by reducing the plate size in cafes. 
> Portion control is unrelated to how much food you make
Not entirely. Even in the fridge, food will only stay good for a certain amount of time. Most people won't want to eat the same thing more than 3 meals in a row. These are also reasons for overeating or throwing food out.
This is an average. Everyone is wasting this on average. So presumably there's either a stigma against wasting food, which makes it all the more crazy, and/or people that waste food aren't interested in this kind of article. That would suggest they waste even more than average.
I'm not qualified at all to analyze this properly. The former method makes use of food to displace use of fossil fuels in farming. The latter displaces use of fossil fuels for electricity generation.
Is there research which demonstrates that one method is better than the other?
> Homolactic fermentation breaks no carbon bonds and emits no gas; its overall equation is C6H12O6 (carbohydrate) → 2 CH3CHOHCOOH (lactic acid). It is a mildly endothermic reaction, emitting no energy; the fermentation vessel remains at ambient temperature.
Interestingly, this method was historically developed in Korea, as is also detailed in the wikipedia article.
Surely if its endothermic the container would get cool???
Food waste seems so very easily preventable. Take what you want, but eat what you take. Composting what's left over is an awesome idea.
It's like when individuals are made to feel bad over taking a five minute shower instead of a three minute shower, while Nestle is extracting millions of gallons of water without paying a cent for it. Individuals should absolutely do everything they can to reduce their own food waste, and composting is better than nothing, but as a global society we should really be focusing our efforts on the largest sources of waste first.
So yes that 90% headline should definitely be cut, it is our waste, and we should be doing everything we can our end also.