Food Waste Generates New Revenue Stream

One of the most significant sources of methane gas in the U.S. is food waste. It is estimated that currently only 2.5 percent of food waste is composted. Food waste regularly enters the waste stream where it ends up in trash bags, compacted in landfills to rapidly decompose in anaerobic conditions. This results in the production of significant amounts of methane, which is far more destructive to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Colleges and universities now have a new way to help mitigate the amount of methane gas entering the atmosphere and earn carbon offset credits that can be sold on the carbon market, generating revenue. The Climate Action Reserve recently released the Organic Waste Composting (OWC) Project Protocol, which provides guidelines for schools to create their own composting operations. The Climate Action Reserve ensures integrity, transparency, and financial value in the carbon market.

The new protocol is a set of guidelines that schools can follow to help set up a program where they partner with an outside facility that composts the school’s food waste and food-soiled paper. These composting operations are different from what happens at the landfill: oxygen is introduced into the waste, allowing it to decompose in way that releases less methane and creates beneficial compost, which can improve soil quality.

Jennifer Weiss, communications director for the Climate Action Reserve, explained the process to us. “All the food waste is going to the landfills and just sitting there. By composting, you are significantly reducing that amount of methane. So that is considered a reduction because your business-as-usual practice was to send off your food waste to the landfill, and that was that. But instead, you are diverting it. And instead of sending it to the landfill, you are sending it to a composting facility where it will be decomposed.”

A composting facility will treat the food waste in two different ways. “One is called forced aeration: that’s where they force air into the piles of compost using a blower system. The other is called turned windrows: that is where they actively and frequently turn the compost pile.” explained Weiss.

In a press release from the Climate Action Reserve, Linda Adams, chair of the Climate Action Reserve board of directors and secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, stated, “It is surprising for many people to discover the environmental damage that can be done by the food we throw away. The Organic Waste Composting Project Protocol is a powerful tool for addressing the situation. It creates a financial incentive to mitigate the significant amounts of methane emitted from food waste, and it provides an affordable and realistic opportunity for people outside of the traditional carbon market to become involved.”

Colleges and universities looking to get involved and start a program based on the Organic Waste Composting Protocol should visit the Climate Action Reserve’s Website. The Climate Action Reserve operates in a regulatory fashion — everything is totally transparent, so schools can see the entire process of the development of the standards for the protocols. It is important to note that the areas the Climate Action Reserve covers are all purely voluntary or above business as usual practices — if a practice is regulated by the federal or state government, carbon offset credits cannot be issued for it.

Weiss explained that once a school has started a program, “We register [the] offset projects. They all have to go through independent, third-party verification.” A third-party organization will come in, study all the school’s data, and look at the process to see if it adheres to the guidelines in the Climate Action Reserve’s protocol. “And if it does,” Weiss continued, “we will register the project and issue the offset credits.”

Schools can do a few things with these credits from the program. “The university can hold onto them and see if they increase in value and then sell them, or just take them and sell them right away,” Weiss said. “Or, they can retire them. And when they retire them, that’s when the true environmental benefit comes in because they take [the credits] off the market, and they’ve really completed that full cycle of greenhouse gas emissions reduction.”