California is known for being on the cutting edge of technology, and the Bay Area is usually leading the pack. So it's no surprise that the efforts of two municipal agencies to turn food "waste" into energy are happening right here in Central Contra Costa.
The Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority has partnered with the East Bay Municipal Utility District to develop and implement a first-of-its-kind Commercial Food Recycling Project in the East Bay. With the help of Republic Services for outreach, training, collection and transportation, the project diverts food discards from restaurants, schools, and grocery stores throughout the solid waste authority service area.
The Food Recycling Project differs from other food recycling programs that use traditional composting processes that mix food with yard trimmings and other organics. Collected food discards from restaurants and grocery stores are taken to EBMUD's wastewaterwater treatment facility in Oakland and added to large "digesters" primarily used to process sewage waste. The food is broken down by microbes that work without the presence of oxygen. This activity produces sludge-like material that can be used as a nonagricultural soil amendment.
An important part of the process is the large amount of methane gas created as a bi-product of the digestion activity. The methane is captured and used to generate electricity to power the East Bay MUD wastewater treatment facility. Any excess energy is sold to the Port of Oakland.
The Food Recycling Project started out small, with only 44 businesses participating. It has grown significantly over the years, with over 300 participants now diverting around 200 tons per month of material that would otherwise go to landfill.
In addition to the long list of restaurants utilizing the program, about a dozen schools are also participating. Anyone who has kids understands the large amounts of food tossed into trash bins by students. Half-eaten sandwiches and leftover french fries are now commingled with used paper towels and napkins, which are collected and transported to EBMUD for eventual digestion and gas production.
The Food Recycling Project has been recognized both locally and nationally for decreasing landfilled materials, while producing sustainable energy. Other municipalities understand the advantages that come with implementing such cutting-edge programs, and are gearing up to follow suit. For example: San Jose and even Brooklyn, N.Y. are investing in what most see as a "win-win:" significant landfill diversion and sustainable energy production.