Decarbonizing Waste: achieving climate goals with anaerobic digestion technology

by: Sam Moller, Associate, Technology and Policy Communications

If we want to combat the climate crisis head-on, we cannot ignore our waste streams. While there is much conversation on the important topics of renewable energy, deforestation, and sea-level rise, we seldom discuss what to do with our waste and how that impacts our planet. When we talk about waste, we often talk about plastics and how we can do more to recycle them, but little about recycling organic materials such as food waste. Of the 103 million tons of food waste the United States generates annually, 44% are landfilled or incinerated. One solution to manage our organic waste is composting, which can be as simple as a small bin in your backyard to municipal compost pick-up programs. Fortunately, composting is not the only tool at our disposal; there is a proven technology that transforms organic material into renewable energy and healthy soil products, all while reducing methane emissions and solidifying our energy independence.

Anaerobic digestion is the process of breaking down organic materials such as food waste in enclosed tanks. Anaerobic means “without air.” In this airless system, microbes, which have existed on our planet for millions of years, eat away at our wasted food and transform that organic material into biogas and nutrient-rich soil products. 

There are two key climate solutions that anaerobic digesters provide:

  1. Methane Emission Reductions. When putting organic material into landfills and incinerators, they emit high amounts of methane. Instead, digesters trap that methane. Late last year, the Biden Administration included anaerobic digesters as a pivotal technology to mitigate methane emissions in its Methane Emission Reduction Action Plan.
  2. Eliminating Odors: Landfills and incinerators are highly odorous. By putting that organic material into enclosed anaerobic digester tanks, we can remove odors and make our waste management system more sustainable.

In addition to the climate and environmental justice benefits, the biogas created by anaerobic digesters can be utilized in our already existing energy infrastructure. The biogas can be upgraded to energy products such as renewable natural gas, electricity, and hydrogen to power our homes and businesses. This is incredibly important as we take the critical steps to reduce our dependency on extractive energy sources such as fracked gas and increase our energy independence.

Here at Waxman Strategies, we are fortunate to work with one of the leading developers of this proven technology, Bioenergy Devco. The company will soon be opening Maryland’s largest anaerobic digestion facility this summer, which will have the capacity to divert 115,000 tons of food waste annually from landfills and incinerators while generating enough energy to power over 7,000 homes in Maryland. 

Last month, Bioenergy Devco’s Founder and CEO, Shawn Kreloff, wrote in GreenBiz how anaerobic digestion can help combat climate change and why this new facility in Maryland can be a model for organics recycling here in the United States. 

If you are interested in learning more about this work, or if you’d like to connect with our Technology Practice, you can click here to learn more.


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