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Waste Not
Organic-Materials Management:
How Companies Can Make Better Choices

Helping people on the front lines of manufacturing and materials management understand company sustainability goals, and providing the leadership support to contribute to achieving them, empowers them to take a more conscious approach to disposal.

What happens when a food or beverage manufacturer produces too much of a product; the product produced had too little of one ingredient; or worse, a product is recalled due to a myriad of reasons? Unfortunately, much of the time it ends up in landfills or incinerators — but there are better ways to recycle that food and beverage waste.

We need to reframe how we think of food waste and understand that some amount is inevitable in the manufacturing sector. Since the beginning of mass production, we have handled excess food waste by sending it to a landfill or incinerator. More recently, organizations such as Feeding America are rescuing the portion of that waste that is acceptable for human consumption to feed those who are most in need; last year alone, the nonprofit rescued 3.6 billion pounds of groceries that would otherwise have been thrown in the dumpster. Yet, in the US, we still waste an estimated 119 billion pounds of food every year — so, what happens with the rest?

If it’s a byproduct of food or beverage manufacturing, it is most likely not able to be donated; and the disposal decision falls to a facility manager at one of the nearly 40,000 food manufacturing sites around the country. These positions have become a significant role in any food production facility; it’s up to these folks to decide what to do with that pallet of product. If the waste is packaged, it is often challenging to compost; and another disposal method must be engaged. While many companies have zero-waste-to-landfill or zero-carbon goals, those goals are complicated to implement at the manufacturing-facility level without strong support from corporate leaders. Food waste from the manufacturing sector doesn’t just have an impact on that company; it also has significant consequences for the environment. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the United States. Teams from the C-suite, sustainability and plant operations all play a role in sustainable and responsible waste handling at the manufacturing level. Ask yourself, “What story does our waste tell?”

How can we help companies understand that their waste has value and communicate that to internal and external stakeholders?

There is no longer a debate about the reality of climate change; we all understand that it is happening. Multiple states in the US continue to suffer poor air quality from smoke from far-off or nearby wildfires, stronger and more destructive hurricanes are hitting our coastlines, and volatile weather is affecting us all. Right now, drought concerns are growing across our country’s heartland.

How ESG stories and goals are shared inside and outside a company is key; over the past several years, there have been many research studies and hundreds of articles written on the subject. One common thread is that the importance of ESG initiatives applies to almost everyone who touches a company’s process or product — including internal teams at all levels, customers and investors. In January, CFO magazine shared a series of tips on elevating sustainability-focused messaging, — with internal teams as a top priority. This is a good educational opportunity to engage all team members — from the CEO to the person working the packaging line.

Knowledge is power. Providing people on the front lines of manufacturing and organic-materials management with an understanding of the sustainability goals of the company and the financial and leadership support to contribute to achieving those goals empowers them to pursue waste recycling as an alternative to traditional disposal.

And consumers are watching: According to the PDI Business of Sustainability Index, they care about what companies are doing to mitigate their climate footprint — and they are willing to prove that with their wallet. The report noted that 70 percent of consumers surveyed identified food and restaurants as areas they would most likely make environmentally friendly purchases. The proof point is here for those in the food and beverage industry to make more impactful decisions across their value chains. It’s good for business.

How to help team members understand what is the best destination for the food waste they are responsible for?

If you refer to the EPA’s “Food Recovery Hierarchy,” landfill and incineration are the point of last resort for our food waste. However, it is often the easiest choice for those who are dealing with their company’s materials management. When food waste is disposed of in the dumpster, it becomes another missed opportunity to tell a better story — to your shareholders, to your team, and to your consumers.

Vanguard Renewables works with some of the largest food and beverage companies in the US to take their unsaleable waste and recycle that with dairy-cow manure to create renewable natural gas (RNG) via Farm Powered anaerobic digestion. A company’s food waste story doesn’t have to end at a landfill or an incinerator; it can have a higher purpose.

Recycling your food waste to create renewable energy is helping to decarbonize our communities and build a circular economy. It also provides your company with a sustainability story that you can share with your consumers, team members and shareholders.

Doing good for the environment can be as easy as having your food or beverage waste hauler take a left at the family farm to recycle it into renewable energy, rather than turning right to go to the landfill.

The choice is that simple.

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