If you let food-based garbage sit and rot somewhere—preferably at a dump far away—several bad things happen. Aside from the awful smell, methane, a greenhouse gas, gets released into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change. Equally important, we squander the opportunity to harness that gas for better purposes. Through a process called anaerobic digestion (AD), for example, we can convert liquid waste into biofertilizer, solid waste into compost, and gas waste into heat, electricity, and even renewable vehicle fuel. Unfortunately, we're not doing a whole lot of that.
According to a new report from the nonprofit organization ReFED, there are more than 2,000 sites in the U.S. that make use of AD, but fewer than 50 of them focus on processing food scraps into useful products. The main obstacles are short-term thinking and limited budgets; running even one large AD facility costs at least $20 million.
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In their analysis, the writers of the report single out areas like Las Vegas, NV and Tampa, FL as showing profit potential—but low disposal fees and high collection costs "make it unlikely that projects will be developed without additional policy support."
So, until prices change or technology gets cheaper or government policy intervenes, we are left with short-term solutions and a whole lot of wasted waste. Americans toss about one third of the food produced in the country. Quantitatively speaking, that's 130 billion pounds of food in the United States alone in 2015. Ands that really stinks.