Where does our food waste go?

(The latest in a series of posts relating to the environment and Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council)

John Marquette is a retired librarian/archivist, author, historian, and a resident of Bethlehem. His current project is focused on the restoration of the interior of the Archibald Johnston Mansion in Housenick Park.

 Christina Tatu, “In first for Lehigh Valley, Easton sewer plant looks to food scraps to generate power.” Morning Call, February 4, 2019.

Gadfly: where does your household waste go?

The Easton Sewer Authority announced plans to design and build a system to use food scraps to produce methane to power their waste water treatment plant. They believe that there is enough food waste being created by service area restaurants and residents to drop their power bill by $450,000 a year.

The cost of the waste-to-energy plant is projected at between $1.5 and 2 million, which suggests a payback period of no more than four years. The plant already produces some of the methane they burn to power the plant. Easton Sewer Authority plant management believes they’ll get enough food waste from their service area’s customers to make up the difference with the new system.

Because of Bethlehem’s fractured household waste collection process, it’s not likely that city residents could include compostables in their curbside collection along with recyclable material and the stuff that goes to the landfill. But that’s not the end of the story.

Lehigh University, Moravian College, Bethlehem Area School District, Moravian Academy, and the parochial school systems generate food waste daily. The proposed Easton plant needs 12,000 gallons of liquid food waste a day — or about 48 tons.

Could Bethlehem power its water treatment plant without having to collect residential compost?


2 thoughts on “Where does our food waste go?

  1. I don’t know any of the details of Easton’s plan, but let’s hope they avoid the nasty pollution problems that come with many such plans.

    Asking whether food waste from Bethlehem’s educational institutions could fuel this plant in Easton seems to me like the wrong question.

    Bethlehem should be requiring all residents, businesses, & institutions to compost food waste and should provide free curbside pickup / composters for residences. Composting returns food waste to the soil, where it belongs. Several cities already do this, and the state of Vermont plans to require all food waste to be collected separately. (Actually, that might already be in place.)

    If the EAC/city can find a clean, sustainable waste-to-energy model to process food waste (there are some in Europe, I believe), that might be worth discussing, but they need to deal with food waste properly NOW.

  2. My hint was that Bethlehem build and fuel its own plant, not feed Easton’s I apologize for my lack of clarity. I am aware that we live in a wonderful yet somewhat backward place where services like city-provided garbage pickup in fixed routes with automated trucks doesn’t happen. We don’t have self-check machines at our main circulation desk at our library, etc. What we *do* have are big non-profit organizations who often cooperate for the good of the city in which they operate.

    I admire the work that Peter and his colleagues are doing to fight the good fight for our region and the world. Non-profit food waste creating energy for the betterment of the entire city could be a driver for changing the minds of more taxpayers, and sooner rather than later.

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