Food waste is an urgent public health issue. In the U.S., approximately 31% of post-harvest food is wasted (i.e. thrown away or spoiled). This is approximately 133 billion pounds of food annually, costing approximately $161 billion (“USDA | OCE | U.S. Food Waste Challenge | FAQ’s,” n.d.). This is shocking and shameful, given national rates of food insecurity and poverty. In addition, food waste often rots in landfills, creating methane gas, which is nearly 4x as damaging to the ozone layer as CO2 emissions. We have to address food waste at the local, city, and national level. This project proposal involves building an anaerobic digester on the UW Seattle campus to utilize food waste to produce compost and renewable energy.
An anaerobic digester would have three main environmental impacts on the UW Seattle Campus:
1) Carbon Emissions: the anaerobic digester would utilize approximately 135lbs of food waste per day, so less food waste would be hauled from the UW campus to Cedar Grove Composting Facility. Reducing the amount of food waste that is hauled to Cedar Grove would reduce carbon emissions from garbage/waste disposal trucks that drive from UW to Cedar Grove.
2) Soil Health: an anaerobic digester would produce nutrient-rich compost that could be applied to the UW farm and Center for Urban Horticulture (and other locations on campus).
3) Renewable Energy: an anaerobic digester would be a small-scale model of how to generate renewable energy from food waste. The food waste is broken down by microbes, which produce methane gas, and the methane gas can be used to power a generator for electricity.