By Kate Worley

An average American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water daily, resulting in over 345 billion gallons daily in the U.S. alone. In addition to reliance on drinking water, an estimated 37 percent of water is used for agriculture in the U.S., and a significant amount is also needed for industry¹ In other words, water is a non-negotiable resource necessary for nourishing our bodies, for growing and processing our food, and for the survival of all ecosystems on earth.

According to surveys from the U.S. EPA, an estimated one-half of all rivers and streams and one-third of lakes in the U.S. are polluted and unfit for swimming, fishing, or drinking.² Groundwater is also a concern, as pollutants such as fertilizers can enter the aquifer and make water undrinkable.

By 2071, nearly half of all freshwater basins that channel the precipitation into rivers that provide water for our daily activities – including drinking, washing, and cleaning -may not be able to meet our demands. This means serious water shortages are possible.¹

Human actions can easily harm water, which is very important. It is crucial to conserve water and make sure it is clean before returning it to the environment.

Part 1: Food Waste and Water

Wasted food means wasted water. Significant amounts of water are needed to grow and process our food, all of which is “wasted” when food isn’t used for its original intention of human consumption. In addition, all food contains water.

ReFED reported that in 2022, an estimated 78 million tons of food was wasted. Three categories – produce (35%), prepared foods (20%), and dairy/eggs (16%) – attributed about 70% of this food waste, or 55 million tons.³

Let’s estimate this wasted food had a water content of 50%. The total water wasted along with the food would be equal to over 6 billion gallons! And that doesn’t even count all of the water used to grow and process that food.

Reducing food waste at the front end is always the best way to reduce environmental – and water – footprint. However, if food does become waste, then managing it through recycling is always the best option. Recycling food embodies circularity, and water is an important part of this process.

Food and other organic wastes that are placed in landfills not only produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, they also produce contaminated liquid called leachate. Landfill leachate needs to be contained, captured, and collected so it doesn’t get into the environment.

DID YOU KNOW? In 2023, Denali recycled over 1.6 billion pounds of food waste, returning valuable nutrients and water into the environment. This includes wasted food and beverages from retailers, restaurants, and food processors.

DID YOU KNOW? Denali offers secure beverage and food destruction services that include recycling of the end product.

Part 2: Returning Water to the Environment

Water is a non-negotiable resource necessary for nourishing our bodies, for growing and processing our food, and for the survival of all ecosystems on earth. This important resource is often taken for granted.

Organic byproducts and clean water go hand-in-hand. One example is when we flush the toilet, creating a waste-and-water mixture that goes to wastewater treatment facilities. Another example is the water mixture that is created at food processing facilities, consisting of a mixture of food bits and water.

What happens then? In both cases, the majority of the water is separated and treated.

Physical and biological processes (such as bacteria) are used to digest the solid components into a material called biosolids (from the toilet) or food processing residuals (food processing). Both still include some water after pre-treatment. The organic mixture should be recycled through a process to fertilize land, make compost, or be digested anaerobically.

The water is then returned to the environment through natural breakdown and filtration processes.

DID YOU KNOW? Denali plays an important role in recycling billions of pounds of organic byproducts each year, including biosolids and food processing residuals, and returning millions of gallons of water back into the environment.

At Denali, water is an important part of our mission to “replenish the earth by repurposing waste. In fact, through management of various organic byproducts, we return millions of gallons of water to the environment through wastewater treatment, to the land through agriculture, and by diverting materials from landfills.

 

KHeadshot Kate Worleyate Worley is Vice President of Sustainability at Denali. She has worked for more than a decade with some of the largest companies in the world to drive sustainability and reduce waste.

 

 


1. “Why is America Running Out of Water?” National Geographic, August 2020.
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/partner-content-americas-looming-water-crisis
2. “Water Pollution: Everything You Need to Know.”
NRDC, January 2023 https://www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know#categories
3. ReFED Food Waste Overview. https://refed.org/food-waste/the-problem/#overview