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Waste management can reduce greenhouse gasses

Alan Flurry
Earth Day 2022 – Make it Count

The cycle of producing, consuming and eliminating waste in a closed system (a.k.a. Earth) is the primary challenge of our time. Sustainable stewardship of the products and processes common to everyday life is increasingly coming the fore as we reach limits on waste management practices and recycling capacity, and witness the changing conditions these limits precipitate. Scientists, governments and private industry are working to address some of the broadest aspects of this challenge – reimagining single use packaging, for example, as well as finding ways to reduce the volume of organic waste we add to landfills. The UGA New Materials Institute, led by chemistry professor Jason Locklin, is partnering with some of the world's largest retailers to find solutions:

Improving the circular systems related to collection, recovery and management of organic waste will help local communities lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the accumulation of food-contaminated packaging in their landfills. There is a growing need for new strategies to strengthen management in this waste category, as more localities ban food waste from landfills and/or extend producer responsibility for waste management to manufacturers, particularly for packaging.

Researchers at the University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute will help their hometown and five other U.S. communities improve organic-waste management practices through a two-year project funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Walmart Foundation. The research will yield organic-waste management strategies that communities can adopt and scale, based on their population and resources. Organic waste includes food scraps and food-soiled packaging, as well as yard waste.

Diverting food waste from landfills to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is a high priority for the U.S. government, but local communities tasked with managing this waste stream currently lack the infrastructure and strategies needed to make improvements. To elicit current practices and conditions, the team will first conduct surveys and interviews with stakeholders in waste management, restaurant and business communities, as well as residents from apartments and single-family homes. For granular solutions that can be modeled for a variety of community sizes, the team will partner with two towns in each of three population densities: 400,000 and up, about 100,000, and under 40,000.

Read on to learn more about the Circularity Assessment Protocol (CAP) and the work of the New Materials Institute. The more we understand about the problem, the more likely we are to be part of the solution(s).

Image: Organic waste, via Getty.

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