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Opinion
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
 

In Our View: Food waste facility to mitigate climate change

The Columbian
Published: September 15, 2023, 6:03am

According to the state Department of Ecology, Washington residents produce approximately 1.2 million tons of food waste per year. That is more than 300 pounds per person of excess produce, meats, dairy, nuts, seeds and grains, plus unusable bits such as shells or bones.

In that regard, we are more frugal than the typical American, who annually throws out an average of 350 pounds of food waste. But the numbers are a staggering reminder of the remnants of our daily meals.

This has several deleterious effects. One is that much of that food is still usable; another is that food waste contributes to climate change. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture explains: “Food loss and waste exacerbates the climate change crisis with its significant greenhouse gas footprint. Production, transportation, and handling of food generate significant carbon dioxide emissions and when food ends up in landfills, it generates methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas.”

Because of that, a planned facility in Longview is intriguing. Divert, a Massachusetts-based company, has announced a plan to convert surplus food from regional grocers, restaurants and retailers into renewable energy. The facility will be designed to process 100,000 tons of food waste annually, offsetting 23,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

“This is a small dent and a very large problem,” said Ryan Begin, the company’s CEO. “We’re hoping that with our leadership, others will follow and understand that this investment is worthwhile.”

Perhaps most important, it is an example of the kind of innovation that is possible — and necessary — to mitigate climate change. Americans can either embrace the challenge of reducing carbon, or they can blame China and India for increasing emissions.

As Gov. Jay Inslee has said: “Climate change is a matter of great peril but also one of great promise. We can pioneer the industries of the future, create millions of good-paying jobs, and build the clean energy economy of the future.”

Gradually, that can-do spirit is taking hold — especially in our state. Washington has been a leader is approving policies to reduce emissions and in developing alternative-energy industries.

But it is a slow process. Far too many Americans focus on the fact that a single state has little impact on global carbon emissions or that other nations are not doing their part. Those claims might be true, but they do not diminish our moral obligation and they do not recognize the great promise provided by emerging industries and technologies. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy reports that in 2021, nearly 300,000 Americans were employed in the solar energy industry, while 36,500 were employed by the coal industry.

Repurposing food waste could become another plank in the renewable-energy industry. As The Columbian explains, Divert’s process transforms food “into a liquid slurry with a consistency ‘just like baby food.’ The mush travels through an anaerobic digestion tank to create biogas, which is purified to resemble a renewable natural gas that meets pipeline quality standards. The process prevents methane from being released into the atmosphere, making it carbon negative.”

The first step, of course, is for households to reduce food waste by purchasing only what they need, finding ways to use leftovers rather than throwing them out and composting waste as much as possible. But when those strategies come up short, it is encouraging to think there will be a useful alternative rather than having food end up in a landfill.

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