Utah’s first anaerobic food digester revved up in late February and, as of last week, was taking in about 100,000 gallons of food waste a day — one-third its capacity. It’s still in the fine-tuning “pilot phase,” explained Morgan Olsen Bowerman, the sustainability manager for Wasatch Resource Recovery, which operates the digester. Food waste collection is expected to increase throughout the summer, and the facility should be operating at full capacity later this year.
The digester — actually two giant towers that hold 2.5 million gallons each — is located on the same site as the South Davis Sewer District plant in North Salt Lake, a natural location since anaerobic digesters also have been used for decades for wastewater treatment. Stand-alone food digesters have been in operation in Europe for several decades, but the technology has caught on in the U.S. in recent years as the nation deals with its massive food waste problem.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 40 percent of food produced in the United States is wasted and nearly all of it ends up in landfills, where it is buried and causes greenhouse emissions as it decomposes. The Utah food digester took about two years to build and cost $45 million as part of a public-private partnership with the sewer district and ALPRO Energy & Water.