An innovative tool presented online by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows businesses including grocers in the Pacific Southwest region to assess their options for reducing organic waste. By providing an interactive means to identify companies and services that specialize in waste management, the EPA’s Waste to Biogas Mapping Tool creates a path to eco-friendliness that is intuitive and straightforward.

The tool, available as an interactive map on the EPA’s Pacific Southwest (Region 9) Web site (, is designed to aid any business that produces organic waste, including grease rendering facilities and food processing facilities. The idea is to link these businesses up with potential homes for their organic waste, such as wastewater treatment facilities, for the purpose of producing biogas through co-digestion. Biogas is a green fuel source produced by organic waste that breaks down in the absence of oxygen.

This is how it works. Type in a zip code or address located in California, for example (one of several states including Hawaii for which the tool is designed). Tell it to search “Los Angeles,” and the map will focus in on the city while producing a drop down list of services to refine your search. This list will include options like Wastewater Treatment Facilities with Digester, Organics Collection Programs and Landfills. Each of these are options or steps in the process for producing biogas through food waste. The tool works both ways, too: representatives of these facilities can also search under categories like Dairies and Food Processing Facilities to see where they might find inputs for their biogas production.

Perform a search under one or more of these categories within a certain mile radius, and the tool will produce any hits it finds. They are provided in the form of a list of matching facilities, and as corresponding pins placed on the map itself at the location of the various options. Click on a facility in the list or its map pin, and up pops an information box, with various pieces of information specific to that facility’s capabilities (e.g. Does this facility accept grease? Yes, yellow and brown!). They also can contain contact information or a link to the facility’s Web site.

The EPA estimates that under 3 percent of food waste got repurposed in 2010. Though this tool, which the EPA plans to expand and is now taking suggestions on, is specific to biogas production, the overall efforts to reduce waste and produce green energy get a leg up with resources such as this.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, August 2012