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Video: PBS NewsHour Report Highlights Importance of Reducing Food Waste…and State Policies to Do So

"The extent to which [waste-to-energy] can take off may depend on how much states or the federal government are willing to incentivize it"

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The PBS NewsHour last night had a fascinating report, highlighting the importance of reducing food waste. As the NewsHour writes:

“According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, about 204 million pounds of turkey meat will be thrown away this Thanksgiving. That’s an estimated $293 million worth. As we continue our look at innovative solutions to food waste across the country, NPR’s Allison Aubrey visits a state that is keeping its food waste out of landfills by sending it to farms to turn it into electricity.”

Among other problems, food waste:

1) “decomposes in a landfill without oxygen…[and] creates an anaerobic sequence that produces the methane, which is approximately 20 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.  This in turn contributes to the destruction of the ozone layer, which can lead to higher temperatures around the globe”;

2) “Another dangerous outcome of so much food being dumped into landfills is the amount of groundwater pollution it creates. When it rains on landfills, the water allows for toxic chemicals, such as ammonia, to develop. These chemicals can leach into drinking water supplies and could also reach bodies of water such as lakes or rivers, killing the living organisms that inhabit those environments. Both groundwater and surface water are highly polluted when in close distance from a landfill.”;

3) “immense amounts of water are being wasted from the food we throw out”; and

4) is a massive waste of money, of course (note: an incredible forty percent of the food produced in the United States ends up in a landfill or is left to rot in the field”).

So what to do about all that food waste? According to the NewsHour report last night (see video, below), here’s one possibility, which is being done (or considered) in other states, and which should certainly be done (or at least considered) here in Virginia.

“ALLISON AUBREY: John Hanselman is Vanguard’s CEO.He says he is inspired by what has happened in Europe, where there are over 17,000 digesters and government policies to promote renewable energy.

Vanguard Renewables: So we saw what was happening in Europe, where anaerobic digestion is extremely widespread. Across the United States, we don’t have that incentive program. We don’t have the federal energy policy or any federal benefits for anaerobic digestion. I think we are at the cusp. We are at the early days. We have finally got the economics to work.

ALLISON AUBREY: Hanselman says, after six years in the making, he expects to make a profit this year, and he’s optimistic about the growth. This waste-to-energy approach is new in the U.S., and the extent to which it can take off may depend on how much states or the federal government are willing to incentivize it. In Massachusetts, it took two new laws – a food waste ban, and a renewable energy law – plus grants to make it happen. Farmer Denise Barstow is glad it’s all worked out.

DENISE BARSTOW: You can’t just work really hard anymore and make it in the dairy industry. You have to work smarter, not just harder. And part of that is diversifying in a way that is better for the land, better for the animals and better for the next generation.”

A win-win, in other words. So why aren’t we doing this?