By Erin Fitzgerald
Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy
One out of every three calories produced is wasted.
That was one of the more startling statistics shared at last week’s food security conversation in Washington D.C. This came from Jason Clay of World Wildlife Fund, who has also pointed out that if we could eliminate waste we would need to produce half as much new food to feed 9 billion people by 2050. (Read highlights from the event here.)
These numbers are not going unnoticed by the food industry. One notable effort that’s underway to reduce this waste is being led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute. Officially called “Food Waste Opportunities and Challenges,” the initiative aims to help food retailers, manufacturers and foodservice companies avoid landfills by finding better alternatives than throwing food waste in the trash. To achieve their goals, they don’t necessarily have to find ways to skimp on ingredients and portions — they just need to find uses for the scraps, leftovers and expired products.
One alternative to a landfill can be found in a retailer’s own backyard: at the start of the food supply chain. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency AgSTAR program, 153 dairy farms across the United States operate anaerobic digesters, which capture and combust biogas from manure to produce electricity, heat or hot water.
Since organic waste contains methane, it can be added to the digester to increase the volume and potential of this renewable resource. In fact, in a study done by East Bay Municipal Utility District it was revealed that food waste has up to fifteen times as much potential for energy creation as manure.
Working with dairy farmers, retailers, investors and digester project developers, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has developed a business model that puts this concept to work and can help achieve our Dairy Power goal to put 1300 more digesters on dairy farms by 2020.
In this model, everyone in the community wins. Retailers reduce waste; communities get a source of locally-produced renewable energy and garden soil amendment, both produced by the digester; and dairy farmers turn what used to be considered waste into a source of revenue.
Like my friend and dairy farmer Bob Foster says, “it’s only waste if you waste it!”