World renowned chef Thomas Keller once said, “Respecting food is respecting life, for who we are and what we do.” But, at the moment 40% of the country’s food is not eaten – over 66 million tons a year – and the results are widespread, from starvation to taxes on the environment and the economy.
Growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of uneaten food in the United States is expensive. Nationally, this translates to an estimated annual price of $ 218 billion, at the cost of a house of four an average of $ 1,800 a year. Apart from that, needy wasted food more than 20% of national landfills, where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas up to 86 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
Now, a team from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), has found a way to keep unused food out of landfills and use it for more beneficial uses.
What the researchers found in their studies Citrus plants, published in the journal Frontier in Sustainable Food Systems, show that fermented food waste can actually increase bacteria which – in addition to increasing plant growth – can make plants more resistant to pathogens and reduce carbon emissions from agriculture.
“The beneficial microbes increase dramatically when we add fermented food waste to plant growth systems,” says UCR microbiologist Deborah Pagliaccia, who led the research. “When there are sufficient numbers of these good bacteria, they produce antimicrobial compounds and metabolites that help plants grow better and faster.”
To help combat some of the environmental damage caused by food waste, the UCR research team set out to find alternative uses other than bins. For their research, they examined the byproducts of two types of waste available in Southern California: beer collision – a byproduct of beer production – and mixed food waste dumped by grocery stores.
After the waste is fermented, it is added to the citrus irrigation system in greenhouses. Within a day, the average population of beneficial bacteria has doubled to two to three times greater than that of untreated plants. This trend continues whenever researchers add treatments.
The end result is the same as optimal production for crops as well as reduced costs for farmers. “If the waste byproducts can increase the carbon to nitrogen ratio in the plant, we can leverage this information to optimize the production system,” says Pagliaccia.
The study suggests the use of the food waste byproducts under study could also complement the use of synthetic chemical additives by manufacturers – in some cases eliminating the use of those additives altogether. Plants will, in turn, become cheaper.
“There is an urgent need to develop new agricultural practices,” said UCR plant pathologist and study co-author Georgios Vidalakis. “California oranges, in particular, face historical challenges such as Huanglongbing’s bacterial disease and limited water availability.”
Pagliaccia also emphasized that new methods must be developed. “We have to transition from a linear ‘take-make-consume-waste’ economy to a circular economy where we use something and then find new purposes for it. This process is critical to protecting our planet from depletion of natural resources and the threat of greenhouse gases. That’s the story of this project. “