The ABCs of Food Waste: From Disposal to Energy

The average American generates five pounds of landfill-bound trash each day, making the U.S. waste problem even bigger than experts realized. Food accounts for an astronomical amount of that waste—over 133 billion pounds each year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

An Emerson innovation fueled by a surprising source—food waste—is making an impact. Even more surprising? The solution can be found in most home kitchens.

The humble garbage disposal has been elevated into a valuable weapon in the fight against mounting waste. The kitchen mainstay’s hero status is due to anaerobic digestion, a little-known, natural process that helps convert food scraps into energy.

That’s where Emerson’s innovation and solutions come in. Our breakthrough InSinkErator Evolution Excel® disposals can grind nearly all food scraps—including orange and banana peels, celery, corn cobs, potato peels, and even rib bones—without clogs or jams.

The ability of Evolution Series® to process a robust array of food hits a sweet spot for municipalities leveraging this innovation.

Milwaukee is one of many large cities putting citizens’ food waste to work. “The more food scraps you send us, the better off we are, because the more energy we can produce, the less fees we have to collect to buy energy,” said Bill Graffin of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

Part of Milwaukee’s wastewater system uses an anaerobic digester where bacteria and other microbes—Graffin calls them “bugs”—snack on decomposing food in enclosed tanks. As the waste is broken down, the microbes release methane, which is captured and used by the sewerage district to generate energy for operations.

The resulting energy can be significant. “Cities are looking at disposals as a great tool to help dispose food waste and get their residents involved,” said Chad Severson, president of InSinkErator, a business of Emerson. “They are something that residents have in their kitchens and find easy to use. The energy generation is a bonus.”

As Emerson continues to further our research and development, more cities are learning the benefits of putting their food scraps to work as energy. And cities like Milwaukee are working diligently to keep the energy coming.

“We’re constantly working with private industry and also with the experts at InSinkErator to figure out the best plan of attack for getting more of this organic material into our systems,” Graffin said, “so we can not only create more power but also feed our bugs.”

As we bring our innovation to municipalities across the world, we think you’ll see what we see: world-class technology that brings new energy to life—literally.

Leave a Comment