Food waste is the single largest portion of the waste stream going to landfills – even larger than plastic.
It also has the lowest recycling rate. Industrial/Organic, a new start-up in New York, is currently working on a process that transforms food waste into a fertiliser that is almost odourless. The clean, indoor process produces biomass pellets, which can be used as both clean and reusable fertiliser and wastewater. Unlike standard composting facilities, Industrial/Organic has developed a process that means food waste is processed in a week compared to the usual three-month process. We spoke to Amanda Prinzo, co-founder of Industrial/Organic, to find out more.
Tell us about Industrial/Organic. What inspired you to start up?
Industrial/Organic is a waste management company for the organic waste stream – particularly food waste. I grew up in Staten Island next to NYC’s primary landfill, which was also the largest in the world and viewable from space. It has since closed, but now the city has to transport waste to states like Virginia, Kentucky, and South Carolina. Many people are trained to forget about their waste as soon as they throw it away, but I know first-hand where it goes and what the impact of it is.
How big of an issue is food waste? What are the causes and consequences of it?
Most people don’t realise (besides the fact that they just don’t think about landfills) that food waste is actually the single largest component of landfills, it’s even higher than plastics. Nearly half of the global waste stream is organic material. Consumers are a large a part of food waste, throwing away a quarter of the food that they purchase, but it also starts at the farm with “less than perfect produce” and persists down the distribution chain to overstocked supermarkets and restaurant kitchens. 40% of the food produced in the US ends up in a landfill. And it has the lowest recycling rate, because the logistics and infrastructure isn’t really there to handle a massive diversion of food waste from landfills. However, in the last five years, seven cities and states have passed laws mandating organic waste separation and recycling. Now is the time to solve this problem.
The obvious consequences of landfilling organic waste are greenhouse gases, but there are many more issues that go on at landfills – from years-long burning fires to toxic leachate making its way into the groundwater. Landfills were an engineering marvel 100 years ago, but knowing what we know now about environmental and public health, they really are kind of at odds to how modern the rest of our lives have become.
The Fresh Kills landfill site was once the largest man-made structure on earth.
How does your company help combat this issue?
We are seeking to plug-in to the existing waste management infrastructure. Yes, there needs to be source separation (meaning that people and businesses will have to put organic waste in a separate bin), but after that a garbage truck can just come to us rather than going to a landfill. And we’re able to be closer to, or inside, cities. So they save a lot of time and money on the transport. So there’s a value proposition for them to come to us instead of a landfill, and they don’t have to make this choice about whether to be green but cut into their profits. We can actually increase them.
In addition, our treatment process has lower odour and emissions, and uses less energy than many other landfill alternatives for organic waste such as composting and anaerobic digestion.
How does your recycling facility work and how does it differ from conventional alternatives?
We have a mechanised system to quickly recycle organic waste in scaleable, turnkey facilities that are less expensive to build and operate than other landfill alternatives. Our method bypasses the putrefaction responsible for odour and methane, instead processing it into a shelf-stable feedstock with utility in an array of industries.
What are the other ways that consumers and businesses can reduce their food waste?
There are some great initiatives out there right now around expiration dates, less-than-perfect produce, etc. Then there are ways to be creative; I know of a restaurant in the city that is trying to create new menu items from the fruit and vegetable scraps produced during kitchen prep, or making veggie burgers with leftover pulp from a juice shop. Food loss and waste generates about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If it were a country, food loss and waste would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the United States.
What’s your plan for 2016?
We’re working on our second prototype system to process 1 ton per day. In the fall, we will run our third pilot, this time offering a collection service to a local NYC restaurant chain. In early 2017 we’ll open our first facility starting at 15 tons per day, and continue to add capacity from there.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019