NORTH SALT LAKE — Think back to the last trip to the grocery store. How much food did you buy — and how much of that did you throw away?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, around 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted globally every year. That's roughly a third of the food produced annually.

And all that discarded food usually winds up in landfills.

"We don’t really see that. We handle our waste kind of secretly — it goes out the back door. But we needed a place for that stuff to go," said Bruce Alder, president of ALPRO Energy and Water.

To cut the amount of food waste in Utah landfills, ALPRO Energy and Water, and South Davis Sewer District are partnering to build Utah's first anaerobic digester facility. Dozens of businessmen and women gathered at the groundbreaking for the building in North Salt Lake on Thursday.

"Everywhere we looked, we found more waste," Alder said. "There is a real need to divert and process these organic wastes that are now being thrown away and put in a landfill, to a better and more sustainable use."

Anaerobic digestion is a biological process where microbes break down biodegradable material without oxygen.

The Wasatch Resource Recovery facility will turn organic material — including food scraps, food manufacturing waste and expired food and beverages — into clean, renewable natural gas.

Once it is operational in the fall of 2018, the $43 million facility will divert about 360 tons of solid waste from landfills every day.

"Our available land is too scarce and too beneficial to other uses to be used to store and bury waste and organic material," Alder said.

In the United States alone, consumers discard up to 40 percent of the annual food supply, the Department of Agriculture reported. Food waste is the single largest component going into landfills, where it generates methane, a harmful greenhouse gas and renewable energy source.

Officials estimate the Wasatch Resource Recovery facility will cut methane emissions that are equivalent to taking 75,000 cars off the highway each year.

"We’re going to diminish our landfill volume. We’re going to produce new natural gas through methane and fertilizer. It is win-win-win all the way around," Gov. Gary Herbert said at the groundbreaking.

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The digester breaks down the food and converts the methane into a pipeline grade natural gas. The amount of natural gas collected is enough to supply a community the size of Bountiful.

"We can do all the stuff that a typical composter can’t do, like the meat, bones, dairy, oil, sugar. We can take all of that," said Morgan Bowerman, sustainability manager for Wasatch Resource Recovery.

Bowerman said multiple businesses and restaurants — including Smith's Food and Drug Stores, Dannon, Ragnar and Harmons Neighborhood Grocer — have already signed contracts to send their food waste to the facility.

Businesses can pay a third of the cost of landfill tipping fees to send large quantities of food waste to the digester, Bowerman said. Any business that produces organic waste can contract with the facility, including restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, caterers, breweries and food processors.

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