From Food to Energy: San Jose Celebrates Recycling Program Anniversary

From Food to Energy: San Jose Celebrates Recycling Program Anniversary
San Jose's Zero Waste Energy Development facility is the nation’s first large-scale commercial anaerobic digestion facility.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and City of San Jose celebrated the city’s successful food-waste-to-energy program with a tour of the nation’s first large-scale commercial anaerobic digestion facility, privately owned and operated by Zero Waste Energy Development Company.

“Thanksgiving is a great time to focus on reducing food waste, the largest single material still going to landfills,” says Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “By turning food scraps into compost and renewable energy, San Jose and Zero Waste Energy Development are helping fight waste and climate change.”

The San Jose compost and biogas program and Zero Waste Energy Development facility supports the city’s goal of achieving zero waste by 2022. The city currently diverts about 74 percent of waste material from landfills through reuse, recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion.

“Our strong public-private partnership with ZWED exemplifies our bold Green Vision,” says San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. “We’re diverting waste from our landfill and converting it to energy by collaborating with ZWED at the world’s largest anaerobic digestion facility. This is project is a win-win for our businesses, our community and the environment.”

During its first 10 months of operation in 2014, the ZWED facility recycled more than 30,000 tons of food scraps from restaurants and grocery stores that would otherwise go to the landfill. This food waste generates 500 kilowatts per hour of electricity that is used to power onsite operations, and it has produced about 6,000 tons of compost. The facility is capable of digesting and composting 90,000 tons of organic waste per year and is expected to produce 1.6 megawatts and sell excess power to the grid in early 2015.

“We’re pleased to have the EPA and City of San Jose join in celebrating our first anniversary of the opening of our facility,” says Richard Cristina, president of ZWED. “We’re excited to showcase the tremendous success of our partnership to keep San Jose’s commercial wet waste out of landfills while creating a high-quality compost and renewable energy.”

San Jose garbage, recycling and composting systems start with state-of-the-art facilities where all commercial waste is first sorted before anything is sent to the landfill. Organic and food waste is moved to the ZWED facility, where 16 anaerobic digesters use bacteria to break down the material in an oxygen-depleted environment to create a biogas rich in methane. The gas in turn fuels a combined heat and power plant that generates electricity for adjacent recycling operations.

California recently announced the recipients of $14.5 million in grants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food and other organic waste going to landfill. Five projects in California will each receive $2.5 to $3 million to expand or develop anaerobic digester or composting facilities similar to San Jose’s.

EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and new Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging Toolkit encourage businesses and organizations to reduce food waste and help feed people in need.  Participants donated more than 98,000 tons of food and diverted more than 375,000 tons of wasted food from landfills last year, cutting greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 85,000 cars off the road.



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