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July 9, 2015

Turning Leftovers into Energy

Imagine that you’re eating lunch at your favorite restaurant, but unable to finish the food you ordered. You opt not to take the leftovers home (who has room in the fridge anyway?) so the waiter takes the food back to the kitchen. Now, rather than throw out the food to go to a landfill, the waiter discards the scraps into a container to be picked up by Waste Management, taken to an organics processing plant and transformed into energy.

How does it happen? Through our proprietary Centralized Organic Recycling equipment (CORe)® process, which allows us to take advantage of the energy in organics to produce biogas fuel that can be converted into electricity and heat. Waste Management collects commercial food waste (from sources such as restaurants, food processing plants and grocery stores), screens it through one of our CORe® facilities to remove incidental contamination (e.g. plastic, utensils, packaging, bones), and blends the waste into an Engineered Bioslurry™ (EBS) similar in thickness to cooked oatmeal.

The Engineered Bioslurry is loaded into sealed tanker trucks at our processing facilities for delivery to municipal wastewater treatment plants, where it is anaerobically digested to dramatically increase production of biogas –a useful and renewable energy source. Adding EBS to the plants’ anaerobic digesters has been demonstrated to dramatically increase their energy output. After piloting the CORe® technology in New York City and Orange, California (which serves customers in Southern California), we are expanding the program in these cities and in Boston.

The demand for this new technology has increased as more Americans search for ways to divert food waste. According to a 2012 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), over 40 percent of food grown in the U.S. is never consumed. Seventeen percent of materials in our trash is food – more than recyclable paper in many communities. Much of the food waste happens on the production and transportation end, but food waste also shows up in residential and commercial trash containers at homes and businesses across the country.

Waste Management provides food waste collection to more than 700,000 residential and commercial customers. In 2014, we diverted 2.4 million tons of organic material, for use in composting and soil amendments, to improve soil quality. Waste Management operates 39 of our own compost facilities, and we also rely on other compost facilities across the country to help us meet our customers’ organic management needs.

A bonus of the CORe® technology is that the cost of transportation and fuel to pick-up and drop-off food waste is reduced since treatment facilities are located in urban areas where most food waste is generated. Composting continues to be a key strategy to handle food waste, but our CORe® process is an exciting new technology that further expands the opportunities to recycle this important renewable resource.