The student tosses what remains of her grilled chicken salad into the trash can. From there, a garbage truck transports the scraps to a materials recovery facility where non-organics such as plastic forks are separated out.
A specialized process emulsifies the food waste into a bio slurry that gets pumped into anaerobic digesters or large, sealed tanks filled with bacteria that break down the material. Out comes biogas containing methane that is used to produce electricity or is converted into compressed natural gas and pumped into cars, trucks and buses for a cleaner-burning ride. The solids are converted into fertilizers for hay farms and backyard gardens.
For the 30,000 students eating meals at the University of California, Irvine, throwing away food is no longer considered a waste. It’s recycling.