Food takes up more space in American landfills than anything else. About 30 to 40 percent of food produced in the US gets thrown away, rather than eaten. What's more, putting all that rotting food inside landfills produces a lot of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Our ancestors knew exactly what to do with food waste; the earliest descriptions of composting were written on clay tablets more than 4,000 years ago. So why is it so hard for us to keep food waste out of landfills? This episode, Gastropod visits the future of food waste: the high-tech facilities as well as the innovative policies that promise to keep our discarded food out of landfills, keep methane from escaping into the atmosphere, *and* turn those food scraps into something useful. Can a state the size of California really keep 75 percent of its food waste out of landfills, as it has pledged to do by 2025—and what will happen if it does? Listen in for compost blow-dryers, fruit-sticker bingo, and a lot of microbes!
The side of the CASP concrete bunker at American Organics, showing the ducting and temperature probes. Photo by Nicola Twilley.
Behind the scenes at CORe, Waste Management's Central Organics Recycling facility in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where food waste is processed to be added to wastewater and turned into biogas and fertilizer. Photo by Saima Sidik.
Rachel Wagoner is the director of CalRecycle, California's Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. You can read more about SB1383, the new law mandating that the state keep 75 percent of its organic waste out of landfills by 2025, here.
The receiving shed at American Organics in Victorville, CA. Photo by Nicola Twilley.
Finished compost at American Organics in Victorville, CA. Photo by Nicola Twilley.
Nora Goldstein is the editor of the digital magazine BioCycle, which has been covering topics in organics recycling—from food waste to biogas to policy and regulations—since 1996.
Lily Pollans is an assistant professor of urban policy and planning at Hunter College. She is the author of Resisting Garbage: The Politics of Waste Management in American Cities.
Keith Churchill points to a grey fungus in the finished compost that shows how full of nitrogen it is. Photo by Nicola Twilley.
Keith Churchill is the director of organics for the L.A.-based waste diversion and recycling company Athens Services. He runs an industrial compost site called American Organics, which Nicky visited in Victorville, California.
Jamie Ecker is the director of organics project management and technology at Waste Management, the largest company handling—as the name suggests!—waste management in the U.S.
Konrad Novakowski & Cheri Cousens
Konrad Novakowski is the plant manager of Waste Management's CORe facility, a residential and commercial food waste composting site in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
Cheri Cousens is the executive director of the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District's anaerobic digester, which processes CORe's food waste and the solids removed from wastewater into biogas and fertilizer pellets.
Cissy Ma is a research engineer with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where her research involves assessing the sustainability of various systems, including drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, and green infrastructure. She co-authored a 2020 paper that presented the results of a lifecycle analysis of the impacts of co-digesting food with wastewater at the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District's anaerobic digester.
For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.