From Trash to Treasure: Turning Food Into Electricity

This wastewater treatment plant is turning food into fuel to heat New York homes.

According to the EPA, the 35 million tons of food waste produced each year in the United States make up the largest percentage of landfill waste. If 50 percent of this waste was anaerobically digested, 2.5 million homes could be powered by the resulting electricity for a year. In 2015, New York restaurants, who take in over a millions tons of organic waste each year, will be required to stop sending their food waste to landfills. Instead, the Newton Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn is offering to take in the excess waste.

The largest of New York City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants, Newton Creek boasts eight digester eggs that process as much as 1.5 million gallons of sewer sludge every day, using trillions of bacteria to break down the sludge into water and other usable materials. Now, the plant is being used to digest a new type of waste—table scraps. The hope is that the plant will be able to absorb the organic waste from residences across New York, converting the trash that would otherwise fill landmines into methane gas to heat houses and apartments. Although Newton Creek is too small to handle all the waste produced by restaurants, the industry is hoping to open more plants and increase their capacity.

Photo by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

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