Summary

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The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the American Biogas Council (ABC) held a briefing about the numerous challenges posed by organic wastes—to human health, water and air quality, and to businesses that must manage these wastes—and how anaerobic digestion offers solutions to these pressing issues. Anaerobic digestion is the process of converting organic materials, typically viewed as wastes, into usable products, including biogas, renewable natural gas (RNG), as well as valuable organic fertilizer and compost. These biogas systems turn a waste management issue into a revenue opportunity for America’s farms, dairies, food processing, and wastewater treatment industries. Speakers for this forum discussed the tremendous opportunities for rural and urban communities alike to use anaerobic digestion systems to foster healthy communities and businesses.

The United States produces more than 70 million tons of organic waste per year (food waste, manure, agricultural waste, biosolids, etc.), which pose significant risks to air and water quality as well as to human health. These materials are numerous and include both edible and non-edible sources. Even if needless edible food waste is eliminated in all communities, there are numerous sources of non-edible organic wastes, including agricultural wastes, wastewater, and inedible food processing wastes.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, and the American Biogas Coalition, 8,241 dairy and swine farms, 3,888 wastewater treatment facilities, more than 400 landfills and nearly 1,000 stand-alone food waste systems could be producing biogas, RNG and other commercial products from wet wastes.

Not only do anaerobic digester systems manage these 'waste' materials, they create local jobs, improve air and water quality, assist in meeting multi-agency nutrient management strategies, and help to meet multiple policy goals espoused in both the Farm Bill and the Renewable Fuel Standard. State waste resources are diverse and numerous. Briefing attendees had the opportunity to learn about the potential resources in their states, the economic and job opportunities they offer, and important policy drivers for this promising industry.