May 11, 2018 - 2min read
Humans are unique: we are the only animal that wastes food, and we do so in quantities that are frankly staggering - it’s estimated that one third1 of all the world’s food ends up thrown away each year.
The knock-on environmental impact is huge, too, with figures from the World Resources Institute’s Climate Data Explorer indicating that if food waste were a country, it would account for the third largest volume of carbon emissions on the planet after China and the USA.
Granted, much of this waste takes place throughout the supply chain, before it ever reaches individual consumers - e.g. food spoilt before harvest, during storage, or by supermarkets when they discontinue stock and leave it to go bad - but in the UK alone we discarded 4.4m tonnes (or £13bn worth) of edible food in 2015 alone.2 And all of that goes to landfill, where it decays to produce greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane.
Yair Teller is the co-founder and chief-scientist of HomeBiogas, an Israeli company whose off-grid appliance gives individuals the power to divert these harmful gases from the atmosphere by turning them into energy for the home - with a domestic anaerobic digester that turns unwanted food waste into biogas for cooking fuel as well as the by-product of nutrient-rich liquid fertiliser.
Yair came up with the idea for the HomeBiogas device - now in its second generation with HomeBiogas 2.0, which looks like a heavily-inflated, hi-tech bagpipe for the garden - when he saw biogas being used while travelling in the Karnataka region of India.
“I saw first-hand that these traditional biogas systems had limitations,” says Yair. “They could take weeks to build, involved digging huge holes in the ground and even then they would only work with manure. I wanted a biogas system that I could use in a modern urban environment, made from good materials that worked well and which would also accept food waste - because it has so much more energy than manure.”
It had to be a global solution, however. “Our goal is to make biogas available to the whole world,” says Yair, “and it has to be just as accessible to people in the developing world as it is to those in the developed world. So we designed HomeBiogas so that it can be shipped in a small box and assembled by anyone - Ikea-style.”
So the idea was not just that HomeBiogas should be a way for the environmentally-minded to minimise their food waste while generating sustainable energy, but to be an affordable, easily-installed and more efficient upgrade to the traditional systems that inspired it. And the company’s founders stand, personally, behind their product - all of them use HomeBiogas in their own homes.
“My kids have grown up knowing that organic food scraps are valuable and need to be recycled,” says co-founder Erez Lanzer. “We’ve been using HomeBiogas to supply my family’s cooking gas for the last couple of years and it has changed our day-to-day life. It really puts into perspective just how much waste you produce, and it’s satisfying to know that you’re turning it into something useful that cuts down on your gas bill.”
Yair Teller’s home takes dedication to the eco-friendly cause a step further - his home is entirely off-grid, with his family living in a Mongolian-style yurt where the electricity is supplied by solar panels, and an eco-toilet feeds all human waste directly into the HomeBiogas system which produces all the green gas his family needs.
“There are early adopters here in Israel, just like anywhere else,” says Yair. “There are hundreds of HomeBiogas users; people who are willing to actively change their lifestyle to benefit the environment - but treating the massive amount of organic waste produced is a global issue, and we believe biogas technology will play a huge role in solving the problem in a cost-effective way.”
HomeBiogas exemplifies a position that we should all be seeking to move towards - the nexus between sustainable technology, sustainable behaviour and sustainable energy use - and their domestic biodigester is a perfect grassroots example of how these three elements can work together to save money, energy and the environment.