The 2012 Olympics and Anaerobic Digestion

June 3rd, 2011 | Simcha Weinstein | 1 Comment »

Sound intriguing? Well, next summer will feature the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Part of what helped London secure the Olympic bid was their promise of sustainability and making the games “greener” than ever before. To that end, it’s nice to hear that London 2012 will be using compostable packaging for some of the food sold on-site during the Olympic games as part of its latest sustainability drive.

An estimated 6.5 million people will attend the games next year and are likely to generate over 3,300 tons of food packaging waste over the 17-day period. Fast food wrappers, sandwich boxes and drink cartons will be served within the Olympic Park area in packaging made from compostable materials such as starch and cellulose-based bioplastics.

Once used, they will be processed through anaerobic digestion and turned into renewable energy. In case you’re not familiar with anaerobic digestion, the best way to describe it is to compare it with composting. When products break down through composting, they break down with aerobic digestion – a process that includes oxygen. In anaerobic digestion, it’s actually the absence of oxygen that breaks down the compost. The result is a rich liquid-like substance, which is great for fertilizer, and the gas that it gives off can be used as fuel capable of running vehicles and machinery. Anaerobic digesters (an airtight tank) are used to treat the waste. The system harnesses the energy to prevent the fumes from escaping and breaks down the decomposing compost. Simply put, Anaerobic digestion is the process by which organic materials in an enclosed vessel are broken down by micro-organisms, in the absence of oxygen. In other words, we get micro-organisms to do the heavy lifting. Anaerobic decomposition occurs naturally in swamps, water-logged soils and rice fields, deep bodies of water, and in the digestive systems of termites and large animals, such as cows.

I have never actually seen the Mad Max movies, but I have read that in one of the series an entire city was powered with methane gas from pig feces. This would be anaerobic digestion on steroids . . . not even a futuristic idea anymore.

Have a great weekend.