What an Anaerobic Digester Means for Utah

Morgan Bowerman

Sustainability Manger for Wasatch Resource Recovery 

URA Board Member

 In America today, 40% of the food produced is wasted – that’s enough food to fill two football stadiums daily. While one in six Americans are food insecure, collectively we are throwing away 1,200 calories per person, per day.  This equates to about $2,000 of bought and wasted food for the average family of four, each year.   If you think about all the resources that go into producing this wasted food – the water, land, energy, and transportation, as well the resources that go into processing it at the landfill at the end of its life – food waste is a vast drain on our economy. Additionally, the way food breaks down in the landfill makes it a massive greenhouse gas emitter – the largest man-made methane emitter, in fact.

Food Recovery Hierarchy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has laid out a Food Recovery Hierarchy, wherein it shows what actions are most preferred to reduce the amount of food wasted.  Of course, source reduction is the number one action to focus on – all of us, from farm to factory to fridge, should be working to reduce how much food is wasted in the first place.  After that, we should be feeding hungry people and hungry animals. Utah has a robust food bank, numerous food pantries around the state, and a new non-profit (Wasteless Solutions) has recently joined the scene in a big way to rescue perishable food that isn’t as easily donated, getting food to people who will be able to access it with more immediacy.  With Utah’s robust agricultural community, there are several businesses sending wasted food to become animal feed as well.

What has been missing from the state of Utah are the next steps in EPA’s hierarchy: industrial uses and compost, or a place for that wasted food that is no longer appropriate for human or animal consumption.  That’s where Wasatch Resource Recovery (WRR) comes in.

Wasatch Resource Recovery is an anaerobic digester facility and is built much like a synthetic animal’s body.  It takes in wasted food, masticates it into a slurry, and then the naturally-occurring microorganisms in the digesters break the waste down even further.  These tiny bugs that break down organic matter in the absence of oxygen off gas methane. We get to capture that methane and put it into to the pipeline as a renewable natural gas.  The remaining product is an extremely nutrient-rich soil amendment.

Food Waste

In its current state, Wasatch Resource Recovery will be able to process between 500 and 700 tons of organic waste per day.  Once the daily intake is nearing capacity, WRR will add two additional digesters to the facility and double the amount of waste they are able to accept, with the output of natural gas being enough to heat 40,000 homes, or meet the needs of a city the size of Bountiful.  Saving this much methane from reaching our atmosphere will be the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road each year.

The WRR facility can accept all types of food waste: grains, fruit and veggie scraps, meat, dairy, sugary and processed foods as well as fats, oils and grease.  All this means saving space in our landfills and greenhouse gasses from our atmosphere and creating something beneficial out of a previously-wasted resource.

For more information, watch this video produced by UTopia TV.