University of Vermont to test food deconditioning system

Researchers from the University of Vermont (UVM) have teamed up with Casella Waste Systems to test a new food unpacking system.

One-third of food waste in Vermont is still packaged, creating challenges for the mandatory diversion of food waste from landfills under the state’s new Universal Recycling Act (Bill 148 banned waste food from landfills from July 2020).

“It’s very exciting for us to bring this technology to our home country,” said John Casella, President and CEO of Casella Waste Systems. “This facility will allow us to separate valuable organic and recyclable raw materials from waste, to use them more and better and to conserve natural resources.”

Casella funded two graduate students from UVM to conduct this research on sustainable waste management. Assistant professor Eric Roy and two of his students are determining whether food waste, once separated from its packaging, can be used for anaerobic digestion and composting.

AD produces biogas, a clean, renewable energy source, as well as liquid and solid digestates for use in agricultural fields as fertilizer or animal bedding. But what if the separated food waste still contains small packaging particles – mostly plastics? The manufacturer of the deconditioner claims 95-99% efficiency in isolating food from its containers, leaving a small fraction of microplastics that can find their way into the environment in the digestate.

Roy, a UVM faculty member at both the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS), said: “Casella is very proactive in determining the extent to which his installation of unpacking works to maximize environmental benefits. and minimize costs.

“We are trying to establish data that can guide the management of food waste in Vermont and beyond.”

Research will focus on two main streams of packaged food waste: pre-consumer – typically large amounts of packaged, but unsaleable, products from food producers, and post-consumer – which may contain packaging or other contaminating material.

Kate Porterfield, a doctoral student at CEMS, began researching the facility in January, the day Casella made her first load into the deconditioner. Casella’s support has enabled Porterfield and Roy to develop new ways to measure plastics in food waste. Porterfield is working on methods that quickly and easily isolate and quantify the abundance of microplastics, much like marine scientists do in the oceans.

“Once we have identified the types and amounts of contaminating plastic, Casella and others in the industry can go back upstream to food manufacturers or waste suppliers to look for ways to dispose of the packaging. unwanted or other contaminating material, ”Roy said.

Find more information on this study and other food waste related news in our January / February issue.

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