EPA tool points the way for companies recycling organic waste

EPA tool points the way for companies recycling organic waste

Thanks to a new online tool touted as the first of its kind in the nation, restaurants, hotels and other businesses will now be able to link up with nearby wastewater treatment plants and other facilities to recycle their biodegradable waste into renewable energy.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Pacific Southwest region recently launched its first waste-to-biogas mapping tool, a resource that the agency hopes will increase the production of biogas, a type of biofuel produced by breaking down organic matter in the absence of oxygen.

There appears to be a market for such a resource. Less than three percent of food was recovered or recycled in 2010, the EPA estimates. High profile companies like Whole Foods Markets (NASDAQ: WFM) and MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) have enacted recycling and composting programs. And a growing number of food service and hospitality companies are looking for ways to better handle organic waste – including programs for consumer and employee education.

In addition to having the effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the agency said, recycling increased amounts of organic waste has another benefit.

“Harvesting this energy prevents waste from ending up in landfills or clogging sewer lines,” EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld said in a press release.

The agency says the online tool is designed for “decision-makers with technical expertise in the fields of waste management, wastewater treatment and renewable energy” -- including local and state governments, non-profits and businesses.

Photo of green seedlings in lab by Elnur via Shutterstock. 

Next page:  Business efforts to convert waste into biogas  

Some businesses are already looking at the mapping tool. "We’re supportive of new and innovative methods as well as reviewing the proposed tool to evaluate its potential usage in these markets and with our customers,” said Wes Muir with Waste Management (NYSE: WM), the nation’s largest garbage collector and recycler.

In 2005 Waste Management established its Organic Growth Group (OGG) to invest in waste-to-biogas companies. “Today, the company has a portfolio of nearly 40 acquisitions, joint ventures and investment projects at various stages of development,” said Muir.

That investment is apparently paying off. The fuel and chemicals WM extracted last year -- from 112 million tons of trash originally destined for the dump -- is estimated to produce energy worth more than $40 billion a year.

Muir points to High Mountain Fuels near Livermore, Calif. as a good example of the potential of waste-to-biogas operations. The company, a WM joint venture with Linde North America, converts landfill gas (LFG) into liquefied natural gas (LNG) to power Waste Management’s collection trucks.

As the world's largest LFG to LNG facility, it has the potential to produce close to 13,000 gallons of LNG daily. The California Energy Commission says the project will also displace more than 3.4 million gallons of diesel fuel annually.