A pilot project in New York City turns organic waste into methane that in the future will go back to residents to heat their stoves and homes. Elly Park reports.
STORY: For Brooklyn residents Sara Schiwal and daughter Nora a cooking session often ends in a trip to the brown bin downstairs. The pair recycles food waste that is to be turned into compost that goes to local farms, landfills and... another unlikely destination. Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant receives pre-processed food waste daily, to use it in an ongoing pilot program to turn it into biogas, explains Deputy Commissioner Pam Elardo. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PAM ELARDO, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER NEW YORK CITY BUREAU OF WASTEWATER TREATMENT, SAYING: "Food waste is similar to the solids that you get at the waste water treatment plant. So we decided to try and augment our digesters using the food waste component. It's made into a slurry and it enters our digesters." Inside the plant's oxygen-free digester eggs, this slurry is broken down by bacteria into water, carbon dioxide and methane. Elardo says that by adding 60 tons of food waste daily, the production of methane gas went up by ten percent. While the pilot program takes place at this one plant, New York has a total of 14 wastewater treatment plants that could substantially increase the production of biogas. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PAM ELARDO, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER NEW YORK CITY BUREAU OF WASTEWATER TREATMENT, SAYING: "If we can get 500 tons per day here which is our maximum and we could get something half or similar at all the other plants we can get thousands of tons a day for food waste. New York City produces 2000 tons (food waste) per day residential and about the same commercial that's four thousand tons per day. Potentially this system this solution could take all the food waste." Right now, part of the methane is reused to power the plants, while the excess gas is flared into the atmosphere. But in the future it will get purified to go back into city's pipelines to provide energy to heat homes and power the stoves to the excitement of Schiwal. (SOUNDBITE) (English) OF SARA SCHIWAL, BROOKLYN RESIDENT, SAYING: "It's just a cycle that I get to be a part of in the front end and the back end. It's pretty incredible I think." If all goes well, the project will cook up enough energy to heat more than 5,000 New York City homes and reduce a big chunk of the city's greenhouse gas emissions.