Futurevision: Heating Homes with Table Scraps

Futurevision: Heating Homes with Table Scraps

Food & Drink

Futurevision: Heating Homes with Table Scraps


By Cari Martens

Could discarded foods—half-eaten pizza crusts, orange peels, unsold donuts from a supermarket bakery—soon be converted into fuel to heat our homes? The potential is certainly there, but some high hurdles must be overcome.

As reported by Scott Kirsner, writing for the Boston Globe, one up-and-coming company in Waltham, Mass., looks at such food waste from homes, restaurants and supermarkets as an underutilized resource. Rather than sending all of that stuff to the landfill, which is what happens today, Harvest Power Inc. would like to turn it into compost, electricity, natural gas, or steam for heating.

One step in making that vision become reality is getting consumers and businesses to separate food waste from the rest of the trash, the same way that yard waste is separated in most communities today (and sent to facilities for composting).

Many cities on the West Coast are already setting a goal of zero waste—nothing going to landfills.

Harvest Power is scheduled to begin building its first energy-producing plant in Vancouver, B.C., this year, and is proposing to build another in San Jose, Calif. Some communities in Vancouver are already collecting food waste separately and sending it on for composting.

Now Harvest is trying to get the wheels in motion on the East Coast, and policy makers and planning agencies such as the Boston Redevelopment Authority seem eager to listen.

As Kirsner reports, Harvest hopes to become the go-to firm for building big plants that will process food and yard waste from homes, grocery stores, hotels, and universities. One of the major obstacles to such plans, however, is the ‘not-in-my-backyard’ attitude found in many communities. A statewide ballot initiative in Massachusetts set to be voted on this fall seeks to block the construction of facilities that incinerate wood or other ‘biomass’ materials, which would likely keep Harvest from building there.

So, for now, your food scraps are probably still destined for the landfill, but one of these days, they may help to keep your home warm in the winter.

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