From Leftovers To Generators: New Uses For Organic Waste Coming To The Wasatch Front

Apr 17, 2018

Earth Day is right around the corner and if you are looking for ways to get involved or reduce your footprint, look no further than the fridge. According to the United Sates Department of Agriculture, up to 60 percent of food waste occurs in households and businesses. While composting is an option for some of that waste, there may be other uses for your stale doughnuts and banana peels.

Anaerobic digesters can process a wider variety of organic waste than traditional composting facilities including meat and dairy
Credit Flickr

“We like to say we can take the full plate. Sometimes compost facilities are really picky on what they can take, what can be composted. Often they’ll take fruit and veggies scraps, maybe some eggshells, some coffee grounds," said Morgan Bowerman, resource recovery and sustainability manager for Wasatch Resource Recovery. "We on the other hand, can take all of the rest of the stuff. So we’ll do the fruit and veggie scraps, but we can also do the meat, the dairy and the oil.”

Bowerman explained that anaerobic digesters are very different from composting facilities which are better able to handle woody and fibrous waste like Christmas trees.  

“The food waste will go through a grinder and get liquefied and then it will head on into the digester, where it will be heated up to about body temperature," Bowerman said. "Then those naturally occurring microbes just like in our gut will go to town on the food waste that is now in the anaerobic digester.”    

The entire process can take as little as two weeks and in addition to reducing waste that will end up in the landfill, the process can produce renewable energy and byproducts.

“When those microbes break down organic matter without oxygen, they off-gas methane so that methane is what we’ll be able to capture. And then we can compress that and stick it straight into the pipeline and it’ll be a renewable natural gas. And then on the other end we’ll have what we call a digestate that will come out as biosolids that can be turned into fertilizer or that can actually be added back into a compost facility and used as the nitrogen content,” Bowerman said.

The Wasatch Resource Recovery hopes to be fully operational by the fall. In the meantime, Bowerman recommends individuals reduce waste by effective meal planning and use of the freezer.