SUMMIT SPONSOR: Innovating To Meet Challenges Of Food Recycling On An Industrial Scale


SUMMIT SPONSOR: Innovating To Meet Challenges Of Food Recycling On An Industrial Scale

by: Seth Goodman and Noah Goodman

May 31, 2024

This is part of our Summit Sponsor Series, which features articles written by sponsors of the ReFED Food Waste Solutions Summit about the food waste work they are doing. All views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of ReFED.

Landfills, often the default destination for food waste, are among the most harmful waste disposal methods. Organic waste in landfills decomposes anaerobically, producing methane—a greenhouse gas that is significantly more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane emissions from landfills are a major contributor to climate change. Additionally, leachate, the liquid that drains from landfills, can contaminate soil and water sources, posing serious environmental and public health risks.

Landfills also represent a significant loss of potential resources. Food waste contains valuable nutrients and energy that, if recycled, could be used to produce compost, animal feed, or bioenergy. By burying these resources, we miss opportunities to reduce the demand for chemical fertilizers, decrease reliance on fossil fuels, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite all this, many companies still choose to put their waste in a landfill. Part of this is because people think it’s the cheapest and easiest option. At Northstar Recycling, we simplify the logistical complexity of the process, providing a single point of contact for all waste recycling needs. Our job is not only to demonstrate that recycling, reusing, and repurposing can be simple and efficient, but that it can also save money—and in many cases turn a profit.

The first step to start reducing food waste is to know how much is being wasted. We invest in state-of-the-art reporting technology and services to clearly demonstrate exactly how much a company is currently recycling and what is going to a landfill. Based on that, we give customized recycling/reuse options depending on their needs and the specific items in their waste stream. We also provide detailed ongoing reporting, showing the progress being made as well as areas for improvement.

There are many challenges in the field of food recycling. After clearing the initial hurdle of convincing people that avoiding the landfill and pursuing recycling and reuse is the best option, we must find the right avenue for their specific waste products—one that makes sense logistically and financially. One unique challenge in the food world is with branded products. For example, if a name brand food gets donated in a manner that is potentially unsafe and poses a risk to consumers’ health, that could be a major problem for the manufacturer and their reputation. Because of this, we need to ensure maximum safety and abide by all current regulations in all areas of our practice.

Despite these challenges, innovative solutions are out there, and Northstar is committed to finding them. Advances in anaerobic digestion technology, for example, are making that process more efficient and cost-effective. Modern digesters can process a wider variety of organic materials and produce higher yields of biogas, which can be used for electricity, heating, or as vehicle fuel. Another exciting development is the use of black soldier fly larvae to convert food waste into high-protein animal feed. This method is not only efficient but also sustainable, as it requires less water and land compared to traditional feed production methods.

Public policies and regulations are increasingly supporting food recycling efforts, too. Many governments are introducing landfill bans on organic waste and offering subsidies or tax incentives for businesses that implement food recycling programs. These measures are crucial for creating an economic environment where food recycling is not only environmentally responsible but also financially viable. Education and community engagement initiatives that teach consumers about food waste reduction, proper sorting, and the benefits of recycling are also helpful.

Fortunately, as more and more companies are realizing the importance and benefits of sustainability, more avenues are opening to meet their disposal needs. We’re proud that our work not only benefits the organizations, but the environment overall.

Whether you are a food company looking for a more sustainable, cost-effective way to manage your waste stream or a processing company that can offer a potential recycling option for food waste, contact us today and we can all work together for a more sustainable future with fewer landfills and more healthy food for everyone.

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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