CEO World: By Frank E. Celli
During the many years of my career thrust into the waste industry, I knew that eventually there would be a time and a solution that offered a better, cleaner way to dispose of our nation’s garbage. Following the sale of my company in 2006, I decided to leverage my historical knowledge to help transform the waste industry to support the trends of sustainability and zero waste. These two initiatives had finally begun to gain traction in the United States because of the increased demand from corporate and government leadership for a more sustainable approach to waste management. So, I concentrated my focus on introducing emerging clean technology to create a disruptive business that would provide a better solution.
Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year, approximately 1.3 billion tonnes, gets lost or wasted and the disposal methods for this waste are both outdated and inefficient. The majority of our food waste is transported by trucks, which burn diesel fuel, to be buried in landfills. According to the US EPA, the transportation industry is responsible for almost 30% of global warming emissions and landfills are the third largest emitters of Methane Gas, a greenhouse gas that is twenty times more potent than Carbon Dioxide. How can we continue to support a disposal method when it has such a devastating and harmful impact on our environment?
In recent years, government, businesses, and environmental leaders have come together to communicate the idea that traditional food waste disposal and management should no longer be practiced and is not considered a viable long-term solution. Governments across North America, including most recently those in Massachusetts, Seattle, New York City and Vancouver, have outlined or passed legislation banning or limiting commercial food waste from landfill disposal. Maryland state officials recently released a zero-waste plan calling for reducing, reusing, and recycling nearly all the waste produced in Maryland by 2040, and California continues to expand its implementation of an organic waste recycling program. I believe that by 2020, the majority of US states will outline strategies with similar objectives.
Composting, which was once the most commonly utilized option for the voluntary disposal of food waste, continues to be plagued with many challenges for businesses and processing facilities. In addition to storage constraints associated with collection of compostable material, the lack of accurate measurement and quantification of the volumes and types of the waste left businesses in the dark about what they were actually disposing and paying for. Processing facilities continue to experience countrywide closures due to odors, community complaints, contamination, or a combination of all three. Composting, on a small-scale, will continue to be utilized by a certain type of customer however; the dependency on inefficient logistics (trucks) and permitting will remain the monumental challenges to the large-scale implementation of this as the single solution to this massive problem.
Anaerobic digestion has recently become the most talked about off-site alternative solution because of its appealing use of waste to produce energy. However, the capital required to construct these facilities, the difficulty in citing them within proximity to major city centers and the steady supply of waste have limited them as a quick scalable solution. Smaller scale facilities may be a better solution, one at the community level, creating jobs and energy right where they are needed and consumed.
Aerobic digesters, like our Eco Safe Digester, were developed to eliminate food waste at its point of generation. Most aerobic digesters use microorganisms to accelerate the food’s natural decomposition process while maintaining optimal levels of aeration, moisture, and temperature. Under these controlled conditions, the food waste decomposes at a rate much faster than under the natural conditions found in methods such as composting. The food waste is ultimately converted into nutrient-neutral water that is transported safely through standard sewer lines. Aerobic digesters are the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly option available in the marketplace today, but I still knew that we needed a solution that provides disruptive technology to accurately measure what is wasted, and that would take the ambiguity of the waste bill away, while putting the generator in the driver seat.
In 2013, we added the BioHitech Cloud to our solution. During the digestion process, the digester weighs each increment of waste and allows users to quantify its type and origin, simultaneously transmitting this real-time data to the BioHitech Cloud. The Cloud then immediately sorts and organizes aggregated data, providing the needed transparency to generators to identify operating inefficiencies within their organization and to facilitate process improvement. I quickly learned that by offering CEOs, CFOs and COOs the transparency of their food waste data empowered them with the knowledge to make smarter decisions about their waste process to effectively prevent waste.
Big Data will ultimately be the single solution to better address these problems. Having accurate and consistent data will allow generators to reduce the amount of waste at its source, helping businesses to buy only what they need, prepare only what they will sell and discard less. When businesses are empowered with real-time detailed analytics, they can more efficiently spot trends, adjust for seasonality, implement best practices, and make company-wide adjustments to improve efficiency and profitability. When operating more efficiently and generating less waste, businesses will spend less time and money managing waste.
In order to achieve our ultimate goals, of a zero-waste society and responsible protection of our environment, we need to aggressively shift the focus from waste management to waste prevention. There is a global misconception that the means in which we dispose of our waste is our greatest problem and ultimately the cause of harmful greenhouse gases that affect our climate. In actuality, the problem is not how we dispose of it, but the fact that we generate enormous volumes of it. The only solution to this global issue is to reduce the amount of waste that is created by investing in smart technologies that will allow businesses to easily track, report, analyze, and manage the waste in order to prevent it.
In the US, many materials are simply just disposed of, including food that continues to end up on trucks destined for landfill. The acceptance of emerging clean technology and Big Data will be the compass to a world with less waste and a better solution for our nation’s garbage.