When we throw food away, we don’t often consider where it ends up. While food is known to naturally decompose, it causes a lot of problems when left to rot in the wrong conditions.
Here, we’ll look at what happens to food waste in America and the numerous incentives and schemes being set up to help.
Where Does Food Waste Go?
It is estimated that around one third of the food produced is never eaten. So, where does our food waste go? In America, it mostly ends up going to landfill sites.
There are schemes being introduced which focus on separating food waste and recycling it. The recycled food can be transformed into biomass energy. However, at the moment households still largely mix their food waste with general home waste. Once it is mixed, it is difficult to separate, so it mostly ends up in landfill.
What Happens to Food in Landfill?
When food is taken to landfill, it is buried underneath other rubbish. From here, microorganisms start to break it down. This is a process referred to as anaerobic digestion. It basically means digestion without oxygen.
Microorganisms use the food as energy to continue their lifecycle. Unfortunately, the process also produces greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Without being captured, the gases rise up and cause a lot of issues for the planet.
It isn’t just one group of microorganisms which make up this process. There are three different stages in which it occurs. A first set of microorganisms get started on breaking down organic compounds. Then a second set of microorganisms converts it into organic acids. Finally, bacteria convert the acid into carbon dioxide and methane.
It takes around six months for food to develop these gases after it has been dumped at landfill.
What Effects Does It Have on the Environment?
It is the gases produced during anaerobic digestion which causes damage to the environment. The gases absorb and reflect infrared energy directly from the sun, trapping in the heat which results in warming.
It is estimated that landfill gases contribute to 1-4% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Work is being done to reduce the amount of gases produced. For example, in developed countries they are looking at capturing the gases, using them to create renewable energy.
However, it isn’t just the emissions which are causing problems. The actual growing of the food that we waste can also contribute towards environmental problems. The machinery and soil produce emissions, while pesticides and fertilizers can also harm the environment.
Cattle and livestock release emissions, while pollutants can end up in nearby water sources. It also takes a lot of water to grow crops, not to mention the emissions it uses to transport the food.
The above is just a brief look into what happens to food waste. Experts are consistently looking at ways to reduce the impact food waste has on the planet. From capturing gases emitted at landfill to educating the public on the damage of food waste, improvements are slowly making their way into the industry.