University of Nebraska uses ‘mechanical stomachs’ to reduce campus waste

A pair of biodigesters is reducing the amount of food waste put out of UNL's campus by thousands of tons.
Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 8:30 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - COVID-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of this school year, but the University of Nebraska is making sure the pandemic doesn’t disrupt its sustainability efforts.

Every year, thousands of pounds of food get sent from the University to the landfill, which then emits carbon dioxide into the air. The University is now reducing its carbon footprint using a different part of the body.

“The biodigester is basically a big mechanical stomach,” said David Annis, Director of Dining. “We put the food into the digester, and the digester just churns it. It mixes it with the enzymes and water flushes through it every ten or so minutes, and its just a constant digestion process.”

Inside the biodigester is a tank filled with small black pellets that mix in the digesting ingredients and food, making it liquid, safe to go down the drain.

“The advantage is that we’re not hauling waste," Annis said. "We’re processing it right here. It’s liquid composting basically.”

Annis said a large composting pile isn’t realistic for campus, so this is a way to still make a positive impact.

The University added the two biodigesters in Selleck and Cather Dining Centers, with plans to add more in three other dining centers in the near future. Already, there’s significantly less waste heading to the dump.

“Between the two digesters, I think we’re somewhere around 32 tons now," Annis said.

Annis first heard about biodigesters about 10 years ago. He’s been working on bringing them to the University for some time.

“To me it’s exciting,” Annis said. “I think it’s important that all of us try to find some little way that we can help. If we all find something small to do, it adds up to a big difference.”

Annis said the liquid that goes down the drain right now can be turned into fertilizer, and that’s a goal for him.

“That might be too advanced for us right now, but I know a lot of places are doing it, so I’d like to see us work our way toward that in the future,” Annis said.

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