How food is manufactured and how it is disposed of has a direct and significant impact on the personal health of the American consumer as well as on our communities and our environment. More than 30 percent of all food that is produced in America is discarded and ends up in an incinerator or landfill. Some states, including Vermont, have mandated that organic waste be recycled rather than thrown away. This is great news as the breakdown of food waste produces methane, one of the most damaging greenhouse gases, estimated to be more than 40 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.
Closing the Loop: Reducing Food Waste and Recycling it into Renewable Energy
The remarkable thing about food waste is that it can become either a dangerous greenhouse gas or an incredible ingredient to produce renewable energy and low carbon fertilizer. The deciding factor is based entirely on how we dispose of it. Great strides are being made on reducing waste from the existing manufacturing and supply chain. Most food manufacturers are fully engaged in multi-faceted efforts to reduce food waste, but some amount of that waste is endemic to any manufacturing and distribution process and cannot be overcome due to food safety and quality concerns.
At Vanguard Renewables, we are proud to be creating a new closed-loop model for American food waste by partnering with family farms. We build and operate anaerobic digestion facilities on farms across the nation that repurpose food waste into renewable energy and low carbon fertilizer. Building our recycling facilities on farms leverages the amazing synergies that exist between food waste recycling and regenerative agriculture practices.
Farm Powered® Food Waste Recycling Helps Sustain a Vermont Farm
We are extremely pleased to be actively working with the Vermont food and farm communities to help preserve the state’s pristine environment for future generations. Our most advanced anaerobic digester in the Northeast is located at the Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury, where we recycle commercial-scale food, beverage, and other organic waste into clean, renewable energy. The Vermont food and beverage community benefits with a solution that complies with Vermont-148, the Universal Recycling Law, as well as cost savings and an opportunity to support a Vermont family farm.
Our solution in Vermont is customizable and scalable to meet the needs of all of Vermont’s food and beverage producers and retailers. We work alongside our industry partners to create a program that fits with their business flow and budget. What’s also exciting is that much of the renewable natural gas produced at the Farm Powered anaerobic digester in Salisbury will be used by Middlebury College to meet the College’s Energy2028 goals to reduce its use of carbon-based fuels.
How Farm Powered Anaerobic Digestion Works
Like technology in use across Europe, our anaerobic digestion facilities on farms throughout the US take nutrients from unusable food and deliver it back to the soil, while the anaerobic digester sequesters the greenhouse gas that would otherwise have been emitted if the food waste was sent to a landfill. This process, called co-digestion, combines food waste and cow manure in a large sealed tank (much like an enormous cow’s stomach) for roughly one month and lets the natural process of anaerobic digestion break down the waste into biogas and liquid digestate.
The biogas can be used as renewable natural gas (RNG) and injected into the pipeline, used for vehicle fueling, or on-site as fuel to produce renewable electricity. The leftover liquid from the process, called digestate, is a potent, low-carbon fertilizer used by the host farmer that improves soil health. By substituting digestate for traditional fertilizer, our farmers can reduce their reliance on synthetic fertilizers by 80 to 100 percent. As importantly, our farm partners have seen significant increases in both crop yield per acre and the nutritional value of the crops. These cost savings and production enhancements combine to make our farmers more economically and environmentally sustainable for the next generation.
Renewable Natural Gas Production via Anaerobic Digestion is a Carbon Negative Energy Source that Supports Sustainability Goals and Sustains Farms
Vanguard has been working with generational farmers for more than seven years to make this solution work. During the company’s lifespan, RNG has gone from relative obscurity in the renewable energy world to one of the fastest-growing areas of investment focus. The important distinction with RNG is that, unlike wind and solar energy which are carbon neutral, RNG is carbon negative. Therefore, the utilization of RNG in a manufacturing process has an immediate and meaningful impact on a user’s carbon footprint. Moreover, RNG can only be economically produced from the breakdown of organic materials either in landfills or anaerobic digesters.
Per a recent New York Times article, cutting greenhouse gas emissions from food production is critical to limiting global warming. In addition to reducing food waste and repurposing what cannot be eliminated, food producers and retailers can also work with supply chain partners on food waste repurposing, thereby dramatically reducing their Scope 3 emissions. The food industry can also support the synergy between reducing their carbon footprint and that of the host farm, while producing vital carbon-negative energy.
The Solutions Pathway
Food manufacturers and retailers are committing to admirable climate change reduction goals. In states like Vermont, these goals are applauded and reinforced by organics recycling mandates that will have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. At, Vanguard Renewables, we believe that integrating farm-based anaerobic digestion into this equation is an immediately impactful solutions pathway that will protect people and the planet.
Billy Connelly is Vanguard Renewables’ Vermont Organics Market Manager. Billy is passionate about making a difference for his local community and globally by being a part of the climate change solution. He is a longtime Vermont resident and a lifelong New Englander. He began his career in the solid waste industry and ultimately worked in the voluntary carbon market with Native Energy, which brought him to Vermont. Most recently he worked at Vermont’s largest Chamber of Commerce boosting economic development in the area. Billy was among 150 people who participated with Al Gore in the Climate Reality Project. He is a veteran of the Connecticut Air National Guard. Billy enjoys time in the vegetable garden, hiking with his dog in the Green Mountains, cooking, and relaxing in the outdoors. And UConn Huskies’ basketball.