Food Waste Disposal and Utilization in the United States: A Spatial Cost Benefit Analysis

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Food waste is generated from residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial sources, and is conventionally disposed of in landfills. To nurture the development of a circular economy for food waste, its valorization by technologies that create fuels, power, or products is being investigated. These technologies offer the potential to dispose food waste while generating sustainable resources. While some literature exists on the economics of food waste utilization options, no existing study simultaneously characterizes different facility scales and locations across many food waste pathways. This study develops a series of cost-benefit models that depict the economic favorability of several food waste management pathways by state: landfilling, composting, anaerobic digestion, incineration, and biofuels production via hydrothermal liquefaction. Economic favorability primarily depends on the local tipping (gate) fee charged by the facility; however, additional revenue streams realized from the sale of biofuels, biopower, or bioproducts can reduce this dependence. Local market prices for biofuels, biopower, or bioproducts generated from food waste determine the profitability of technologies that generate these products. The magnitude of these revenue streams depends on local market factors and the economies of scale leveraged for large facilities. Significant spatial variability in these results exists across the United States, driven by the differences in tipping fees, O&M costs (e.g., labor rates), and product market prices. This study supports decision-making by industry, state, and local governments, as well as furthering research in the area of sustainable utilization of food waste.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberArticle No. 128057
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
StatePublished - 10 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-75926


  • anaerobic digestion
  • biofuels
  • biopower
  • bioproducts
  • composting
  • cost-benefit analysis
  • food waste
  • hydrothermal liquefaction
  • incineration
  • landfills
  • waste-to-energy


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