Fueling Food: The Facts

Water, Waste & Energy

It starts first thing in the morning – our daily waking ritual, the morning coffee stop. Enough of the United States has become accustomed to a mid-commute drop in or drive through pick me up to start the day that the impact of this one purchase is massive to consider. This one beverage in and of itself is a prime example of the hidden footprint some of our most celebrated conveniences when it comes to water used in the product’s lifecycle. The water cost of products in general is a down-the-rabbit-hole concept but is especially pertinent to consider when it comes to food and beverage, and it is this aspect I hope to explore here this quarter. Take for example your average cup of to go coffee:

*2.24.12 webinar, “The Business of Food Transparency” – Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo

Jumping from the beginning of products to the end of their lifecycle, we encounter another shadowy epidemic:

“Americans are used to sending their trash away.” ~ Dr. Ruihong Zhang, UC Davis Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department

Nowhere is this more true than with food:

In addition to awareness advocacy and habit change to lessen the amount of waste, a variety of local organizations are doing needed work to form partnerships that divert product with a useful life left to different end users than the trash. Seattle has instituted mandatory curbside compost and the statewide conversation regarding its role in soil management is encouraging. Urban Gleaners work in Portland, Oregon is connecting edible surplus with school food programs.

Harnessing the food waste stream for purposes of alternative energy generation has exciting potential as well.

“Anaerobic digestion as a means of food waste disposal is preferable to landfill not just because of this kind of power generation, but also because when methane (CH4) is burnt, the carbon in it binds to oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a much less potent greenhouse gas. One recent study estimated that avoiding landfill could save emissions of between 0.4 and 1 tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent per tonne of food waste.” ~ Tristram Stuart, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal 


4 responses

  1. As I was watching this, I started to think about the concept of soil depletion. This is a topic that I know very little about, but I believe it has to do with the fact that we take the organic matter out of the soil, and nothing is left there to decompose to be added back. Sure, there is crop rotation, but all this additonal organic matter that is put into the dumpsters, is there a way to get this back into the agricultural fields? How much would this help? Are the micro-business models that would make this feasibile?

  2. Wow. I was just reading about Star***ks this past week and their initiatives to eliminate the use of single use cups: that is just one facet of a much larger issue as it turns out. We tend to focus on ” outer shell” or packaging mostly with an after thought on what actually is inside those containers. I am looking forward to your exploration and questioning of our waste with food.

  3. I had to give myself a bit of a pat on the back. We roast our own coffee (highly recommended, it’s quick, cheaper, and tastes much better than anything you get from the coffee shop!) and then use our French press to brew, using our own mugs, of course. It’s amazing what goes into something as small as a cup of coffee.

    I’m intrigued by this burning bread concept. It seems that all the bakeries we visited had plenty of leftover bread…

  4. Nice job starting with a type of waste that is more mainstream and transitioning to your focus on food waste.

    The language we use surrounding waste and trash is so interesting – there is no such thing as “away,” as in throwing something away. Because we are so accustomed to being able to throw things “away,” we put no thought into even how we dispose. As the video above shows, we dispose not just of the food, but the containers in which it is sold. How do we create those channels and linkages to find this “waste” a new useful life? What would it take for people to separate out the containers so that they too can find a new useful life?

    I look forward to following your research and thoughts this quarter! Like Soraya, I’d love to see another post on anaerobic digesters and its potential as a small business opportunity or perhaps a way for small communities to gain sovereignty from local power monopolies. I’d also love to see a post that goes indepth into how food waste can be used to address problems of hunger. (In case you are looking for ideas!)

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