The severe global consequences of food waste for climate, water and land use, and biodiversity were recently highlighted and analyzed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO report finds that 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a by-product of global food waste, are released into the atmosphere every year. To put this into perspective, this is more than the entire global shipping industry and results in an estimated $750 billion annual economic burden (excluding fish and seafood).
Increased production and release of greenhouse gases has been amplified from human activity and, as a result, rapidly increases the natural greenhouse effect. Since the industrial era, the over-production of greenhouse gases, primarily CO2, has contributed to increased global temperatures and severe environmental detriment.
Evaluating our current practices for agriculture, food production, and waste management to reduce GHG emissions as a population is crucial. By taking measures at every level – individual consumers, farmers, businesses, local and national governments – we can promote sustainable living and a more circular economy.
Transforming “waste” management challenges into benefits: Case studies
Every municipality faces its own, unique challenges when dealing with its “waste”. For example, a challenge for the Township of Centre-Wellington, Ontario was that it surpassed its biosolids processing and storage capabilities at the treatment plant, a common challenge in many of Ontario’s communities due to growing populations. To compound the problem, limited space and budget constraints restricted the Township’s options for on-site and off-site storage.
A comprehensive study was subsequently carried out by Triton Engineering for the Township. In 2012, Township council approved a significant, $21.3 million project to expand the treatment plant and modify the main pumping station feeding the facility. Council saw the plant upgrade as an important opportunity to modernize the facility and transform the traditional wastewater treatment plant into a Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF), capable of reducing overall volumes and converting the biosolids generated in the community into a registered biofertilizer product that can be sold to help offset costs.
As a result, the University of Waterloo, Ontario spin-off Lystek system for biosolids and organics management was selected as a key component of the new, totally integrated WRRF that went on to be commissioned for Centre Wellington. The low cost, easy to operate, award-winning system is capable of transforming biosolids and other non-hazardous, organic materials into concentrated, nutrient-rich biofertilizers and other multi-purpose products that help reduce “waste”, odors, costs, and Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.
The WRRF conversion addressed Centre-Wellington’s growing pains in this regard and took the Township’s biosolids management program one-step further by creating an additional source of revenue. The resulting biofertilizer produced by the Lystek system is federally registered in Canada by the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and is further recognized as a Class A EQ product by the US EPA. This is a game changer as it allows the material to be sold to growers, not given away like Class B biosolids.
Christine Furlong, P. Eng., of Triton Engineering comments that, “the net result is a substantial reduction in the volume of end product requiring management as well as reduced requirements for biosolids storage.” Additional benefits include a system that is simple and easy for existing staff to operate as well as reduced potential for odors.
Benefits were comparable in the City of Guelph where the Lystek system was also leveraged to support its Biosolids Management Master Plan. Kiran Suresh, Plant Manager of Wastewater Services for Guelph, states that they sought “a new biosolids processing technology that would take [them] well into the future.” For this City, the implementation of Lystek technology will ensure that the 175,000(+) residents estimated to inhabit the City by the year 2031 (and their “waste”) are proactively managed.
Alternative biosolids management practices of landfilling and incineration of biosolids have a high cost in terms of GHG emissions. These methods and even landfilling of dewatered biosolids result in relatively high levels of methane and CO2 released despite best efforts for efficient gas capture and energy recovery. In contrast, repurposing biosolids and injecting them into the soil, as a concentrated biofertilizer, results in lower emissions and high offsets from the viewpoint of effective energy capture. The Lystek method reduces or eliminates CO2 emissions from landfilled biosolids and chemical fertilizers. Applied properly and with best practices, this also allows for improved sequestration of carbon in the soil and provides vital nutrients required to promote healthy, long-term plant growth conditions.
Waste management and drinking water protection in Ontario
Effective waste management also impacts our drinking water. There are 19 committees across Ontario that aim to develop science-based plans to eliminate, manage, and reduce potential threats to water sources. Ontario has approved two more water protection plans in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) that will take effect on December 31, 2015 – The Credit Valley, Toronto and Region, and Central Lake Ontario (CTC) Source Protection Plan and the Halton-Hamilton Source Protection Plan. In order to protect the quality and quantity of the sources that supply civic drinking water systems, many municipalities in the GTHA will have new responsibilities, including the creation of management plans for biosolids, commercial fertilizers, and manure in addition to the development, or updating of; water conservation plans.
The integration of advanced technologies, such as Lystek, can aid in source protection planning by respecting best practices and guidelines and creating safe and sustainable, organically-based products that allow us to return valuable resources back to the earth and perpetuate a circular economy. Effective waste management in conjunction with other practices that offset the environmental burden of food production and human activity are instrumental to ensure our natural resources are protected and our drinking water remains drinkable.