A box of food scraps.
Photograph by Justin Sullivan—Getty Images
By Michal Addady
April 7, 2016

One man’s garbage is another man’s renewable energy.

Private development company EDF Renewable Energy is running the Heartland Biogas Project in Colorado—a facility that creates energy using food waste. According to NPR, it implements anaerobic digestion technology to turn what is generally seen as trash into electricity.

Americans wasted 130 billion pounds of food last year, about a third of our available food. Most of that sits in landfills waiting to decompose. As the food decomposes it releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, subsequently contributing to climate change. Heartland instead captures that gas and puts it towards something more useful and less damaging.

The facility houses six holding tanks, known as “digesters,” that essentially operate like stomachs. After the food waste is “digested,” it produces a liquid, a solid, and a gas. The liquid is reused in the digestion process, the solid is used for composting, and the gas generates electricity. “We’ve seen a lot of those types of digesters in Europe and we’re just starting to see them emerge in the U.S.,” resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council Darby Hoover told NPR.

Hoover added that many cities likely won’t recognize the digester’s “high value” because they would be turned off to the idea by the expensive project costs. But that hasn’t deterred California’s capital. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District has inked a 20-year deal with EDF to buy all the gas generated by Heartland, helping the city meet high renewable energy standards set by the state.

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