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Hidden Wealth in Food Waste?

garbage cans resize

The United Nations estimates that the world wastes 1.4 billion tons of food annually. The average American chucks out 250 pounds’ worth.

Schemes for shrinking the global garbage heap include better harvesting techniques, storage, transportation, and farmer-buyer agreements. Solveiga Pakstaite, a recent industrial design graduate of Brunel University in Britain, is developing new gelatin-based packaging that gives a more precise signal of spoilage than the conventional sell-by date, thus preventing food from being thrown out prematurely. Bump Mark, as her invention is called, won a James Dyson Foundation scholarship and the Mayor of London’s Low-Carbon Entrepreneur prize. The packaging starts off feeling smooth but once the food inside becomes unsafe to eat, the gelatin turns to liquid, causing the label to feel bumpy.

As for putting the waste to use, Seattle has mandated composting, as is practiced at Manhattan’s Union Square (photo above). But a London-based accelerator, the Center for Process Innovation, sees gold in garbage. It plans to produce biogas through anaerobic digestion of the waste, split it into methane and carbon dioxide, and then separate out graphitic carbon and hydrogen – both marketable commodities.

This article, updated in April 2016, originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of the American Association for Engineering Education’s Prism magazine. It was written by editor Mark Matthews.

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