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60-Second Earth

Wasted Food No More

Massachusetts may ban big institutions from discarding food in the trash in a bid to cut down on the methane from landfills. David Biello reports

When you don't clean your plate, microbes feast. And Americans are awfully good at feeding microbes, wasting some 222 million metric tons of food a year. That's a quarter of our food.

Much of that wasted food ends up in garbage dumps, turned by microbes into methane, a powerful greenhouse gas and one of the primary culprits behind global warming.

Now government officials in Massachusetts would like to ensure that restaurants, universities, hospitals and other large institutions don't exacerbate that problem. The idea is to make sure all that wasted food doesn't end up in landfills but instead becomes either compost or energy.

The same microbes that turn food into methane in a landfill can turn food into methane in a biodigester and that methane can then be used as a fuel. More importantly, from the Bay State’s perspective, it will keep the state's landfills from filling up.

Of course, the methane from landfills can also be harvested, and often is. And, as the Pilgrims knew, it would be even smarter not to waste the food in the first place. But let's give thanks for another helping of new ways to curb climate change.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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