Diversion refers to the practice of sending materials (in this case food) to another, beneficial use rather than to the landfill. All sections of the recovery hierarchy, except source reduction and landfill/incineration, represent a form of diversion, and each has its own unique set of benefits and challenges. Regardless of what diversion option you choose to implement, it is important to remember that diversion methods should always be used in conjunction with prevention.
In keeping with the food recovery hierarchy, ideally one would reduce the amount of food waste produced first, feed people or animals and then divert what is left to an industrial use or compost facility.
In practice, however, many businesses will start diverting first and then work their way back up to prevention. The major benefit of this approach is that it provides a visual of how much and what kind of food waste is being generated. Seeing all the food waste in one place can help to motivate staff and management to take further action, such as preventative measures.
Much of the food that goes to waste is overproduced or cosmetically damaged but still edible. The most direct benefit this food can have is to be sent to feed hungry people. Donating food usually has little to no cost to the donator, especially once tax deductions are considered. In New York State, there is an organized system of food banks that each cover a specified region of the State, making it possible for any business to find an outlet for donating food.
Some food that isn’t fit for donation to people is able to be used for feeding animals including livestock, swine and poultry. There are two ways that food waste is used to feed animals. The food waste composition, moisture content and amount, will help to determine which way is preferable or if another diversion method should be used.
There are various ways to convert food waste into energy and beneficial goods such as anaerobic digestion, rendering and biofuel production. Of these, anaerobic digestion is the most common in New York State right now, with the majority of digesters located at farms primarily as a manure management system. Most digesters that accept food waste mix the food with manure in a process called co-digesting.
Food scrap that isn’t fit for human or animal consumption can many times be used for compost. Composting is the process of recycling the nutrients in organic materials, such as food waste, back into the soil. Though composting is lower on the Food Recovery Hierarchy, it is the most widely known and utilized diversion pathway in New York State and provides a valuable recycling option for food waste.