Check out current VSFA & member news /

How Food and Beverage Companies are Using Their Waste to Help Meet Sustainability Goals and Move Toward Net-Zero Emissions

Written by Billy Connelly, Vermont Organics Market Manager, Vanguard Renewables

Every food and beverage manufacturer produces waste. It’s unavoidable. But what can be done so that waste does not contribute to a company’s carbon footprint? Are there ways to divert waste that don’t involve harming the environment? Better yet, are there ways of recycling waste that can help food or beverage manufacturers achieve their sustainability goals?

Commercial food production, like all manufacturing, has inherent inefficiencies, which also represent opportunities for sustainable solutions. Many of those solutions are gaining momentum. We used to cut virgin forests for paper goods, and now we more effectively steward our woodlands and develop alternative packaging options. The focus on regenerative agricultural practices is growing stronger, as farmers around the world embrace practices to restore our soils and waters and realize the many long-term benefits of healthy local ecosystems. Transportation and distribution are becoming more efficient and less carbon intensive with greater use of hybrid and electric vehicles. We are doing better, and we will continue to improve. There is a lot of work to be done with our food systems.

About one-third of global food is wasted annually. As it naturally decomposes, food and beverage waste produces greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide. Emissions from food and beverage waste alone, ignoring deforestation, production and shipping, account for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

But these harmful gases can be captured and sustainably repurposed. Shacksbury Cider, a craft cider producer based in Vergennes, recycles its waste with Vanguard Renewables, as does Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot, Foley Brothers Brewing, The Alchemist, and many other commercial food and beverage manufacturers. Their waste is recycled at Vanguard’s Farm Powered anaerobic digester, an engineered biomimicry system that is similar to an enormous cow stomach. Food and beverage waste is mixed with cow manure in a large, sealed tank. The gut flora from the manure naturally breaks down - digests - the waste materials and produces byproducts, including methane. That methane gas is captured in large membranes and then converted into renewable energy in the form of electricity and/or renewable natural gas (RNG). Both end products have a negative carbon intensity, meaning they generate electricity or heat that otherwise would come from fossil fuel sources while also capturing emissions from food waste that otherwise would be released into the atmosphere. Shacksbury Cider has been able to significantly reduce their carbon footprint by working with Vanguard Renewables to recycle their food waste into renewable energy, pushing them closer to net-zero emissions.

Vanguard Renewables’ Farm Powered anaerobic digester, located at the Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury.

There is no substitute for minimizing waste, repurposing it, and donating if for human or animal consumption when possible. Recycling inedible food and beverage waste through anaerobic digestion is an effective, efficient way for businesses and institutions to achieve their climate goals. Together, food and beverage manufacturers can work with Vanguard Renewables to help mitigate the impact food waste has on global emissions, and help companies and communities reach their sustainability goals. To learn more about anaerobic digestion and sustainable organics recycling for your company, please contact me today at or (802) 771-5866.

Billy Connelly is Vanguard Renewables’ Vermont Organics Market Manager. He develops partnerships with leading food and beverage manufacturers, institutions, and other high-volume organizations to recycle their waste into renewable energy at the company’s new anaerobic digester in Salisbury. He is passionate about making a difference for his local community and globally by being a part of the climate change solution. He is a longtime Vermont resident and a lifelong New Englander. He began his career in the recycling industry and has held senior-level positions for socially responsible business in renewable energy, carbon offsets, and sustainable travel. He was one of the first 100 people trained by Al Gore and The Climate Reality Project. Billy’s family lives in Middlebury.