Greener Vail: Turning waste into water
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –In my small Vail Valley household of two, I am known as the “Lieutenant of Leftovers.” Food waste is my latest green crusade, and I’ll be damned to let that last cup of cooked rice go into the garbage.
Unfortunately, not everyone has adopted such vigilance when it comes to food scraps. Americans waste 30 percent of their food. But we’re not really talking about scraps, here. We’re talking about whole tubs of mustard and potato salad thrown out of supermarkets or whole trays of lasagna that doesn’t get sold at restaurants.
As images of starving children come into mind, think about this: Wasted food is also wasted water. Those kids are thirsty, too. Or will be.
The 48.3 billion dollars Americans waste in food is the equivalent to leaving the tap running, according to a 2008 report written by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Water Management Institute.
“As much as half of the water used to grow food globally may be lost or wasted,” says Dr. Charlotte de Fraiture, researcher at International Water Management Institute, in the report mentioned above.
“Curbing these losses and improving water productivity provides win-win opportunities for farmers, business, ecosystems and the global hungry,” she said. “An effective water-saving strategy requires that minimizing food wastage is firmly placed on the political agenda.”
Lucky for me –and you – I recently discovered an up-and-coming food waste innovation. It’s called Bio-Ez, and it turns food waste into water. Bio-Ez decomposes any kind of food waste, including vegetable and fruit scraps, raw and cooked meats, fish, poultry and dairy products into a nutrient rich liquid.
As of now, it’s a big machine marketed to grocery stores, hotels, restaurants, colleges and hospitals -institutions where conventional composting might be too big an undertaking. Whole Foods’ flagship store in Virginia has picked one up. (I’m holding out for the town-home deluxe.)
But if this big machine does what it says, it could have a major impact on our waste stream, landfill space, greenhouse gas emissions and water flow.
“Food waste in landfills rots and creates methane.One pound of food waste in a landfill creates .833 pounds of methane that’s released into the atmosphere. The Environmental Protection Agency considers methane to be at least 20 times more harmful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas,” says Air Cycle Corporation rep and Bio-EZ distributor Ken Campbell. “Removal of food from landfills using Bio-Ez can have a tremendous impact on lowering methane gas emissions.”
Bio-Ez uses a patent-pending formula of microorganisms to break down food material in anaerobic digestion, a process that EPA calls “almost as old as the planet itself.” It biodegrades the food leaving trace amounts of CO2 and water. The food matter is digested prior to putrefaction and prior to the production of methane. The liquid that is removed is transported in sanitary sewers and treated at a waste water treatment facility.
“The effluent, or water, is nutrient rich with some suspended solids, and the effluent is passed through a grease interceptor prior to the sewer. It exits at a flow rate that can be adequately handled by waste water treatment facilities,” Campbell says.
As of now, Waste to Water LLC, the company behind Bio-Ez, is developing a way to use the “waste” water for irrigation to water plants and gardens.
“The water is not immediately available for irrigation. There are steps that can be taken to make this possible,” Campbell says. “One of the issues that can occur is a high saline content from prepared foods. There is a stabilization and settling that would need to occur prior to use it this way. It is under development but not commercially viable at the moment.”
The most sustainable solution to this food-waste/water-waste problem is reducing the amount of food we throw away. But in the meantime – until I train more “Leftovers Soldiers” – it’s comforting to know people are creating innovations to help the environmental vices our society faces today.
Freelance writer Cassie Pence is married to the superhero of green cleaning Captain Vacuum, AKA Tim Szurgot. Together they own Organic Housekeepers, a cleaning company that uses strictly organic, natural and nontoxic cleaning products. Contact her at email@example.com.
The Eagle Valley Land Trust and Eagle River Watershed Council program adds 1% to purchases to fund preservation and conservation.