With little fanfare the Town created its Tusten Energy Committee (TEC) in 2011, which has led to many initiatives – from home energy audits and LED lighting for the main street, to two major projects. In 2017 it developed a solar array for the town which supplies power to all the town’s buildings and facilities, and in 2021, with a grant of $138,000 from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, it bought a sleek purple “micro-digester” to process the town’s food wastes. Designed and manufactured by Seattle-based Impact Bioenergy, the system sits right next to the solar array and gets the small amount of electricity it needs from this solar source.
The digester is called a HORSE – a High-solids Organic-waste Recycling System with Electrical Output. Operating at full tilt, it is capable of digesting 4,000 pounds (two tons) of food wastes a month from Tusten businesses and residents. (Edible food wastes are redistributed.) By diverting this waste from landfill(s), the project will cut over 38 tons of greenhouse gases per year — it would take 1,500 mature trees to absorb that amount of CO2.
In 2015, the UN set a goal to cut global food waste 50% by 2030 by redistributing edible food – an ambitious goal – but there is enormous value in the other 50%. All food, animal manure and other organic wastes can be put in digesters, where the methane biogases emitted by decomposing organic wastes are captured and can then be refined into carbon-free energy, fuel and compost. The 65 million tons of food waste thrown out yearly in the US from households, restaurants, food processors etc. are a great waste of a valuable energy resource.
In Tusten, businesses including Pete’s Market, The Heron Restaurant, The Blue Fox Motel, the Launderette Restaurant, and the 2 Queens Coffee Shop will take their food wastes to the digester where the methane gases emitted by these organics are captured and used to generate electricity for the town’s grid. But the food waste also produces a nutrient-rich “digestate,” which is being turned into liquid fertilizer that can be collected in specialized growlers and used by residents in their gardens, farms, etc. Ultimately the Town aims to sell the fertilizer at a modest price to local farmers.
One day soon there may be thousands of micro-digesters operating in towns, at markets, breweries, colleges and more across this country. They will be one of the critical solutions to meeting our climate change and waste reduction challenges.