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Written by Owain JonesMBA in Sustainability student at University of Saint Francis

Recently, Emerson Electric Company has been airing a fairly strong television advertisement campaign on many channels again, resurrected from a few years ago. The gist of the advertisements is that Emerson is providing cities and companies with solutions to problems that have “never been done before.” Originally these commercials were developed back in 2009 as the “It’s Never Been Done Before” campaign and they can be seen on Emerson’s YouTube Channel and explained in this Emerson news release. As it relates to sustainability, there is one very intriguing part of this campaign that seemed very out of the ordinary.

It was the way in which Emerson has helped the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin increase its initiative to produce a substantial amount of electricity through its wastewater program. What the City of Milwaukee had developed was a methane producing system in its wastewater treatment plants to create electricity. Microbes are introduced into the wastewater tanks, where they digest the sewage to expel methane. The methane is then captured and turned into energy. This process is nothing new and Emerson was not the one to develop this for Milwaukee. However, what Emerson did was show how their InSinkErator garbage disposal technology could dramatically increase methane production.

Anyone who has used a garbage disposal has clearly known the limits of it and how shoving something like a corn cob down it would seem undoubtedly dangerous. Emerson’s InSinkErator can not only demolish corn cobs but it can even handle a rib bone without any clogging of the drain, pretty high claims. So, what does this mean? It means that encouraging food waste to go down the drain instead of in the garbage will increase the amount of food waste directed to wastewater treatment plants while decreasing the amount in landfills. This increased amount of food waste sent through to the wastewater treatment plants of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District will give more methane to turn into energy because decomposing food waste produces methane. Also, eliminating this waste being transported by garbage trucks saves the fuel it would have otherwise burned in transporting it to the landfill. On top of this, the amount of methane emitted into the atmosphere is decreased because of the food waste is producing methane in the wastewater system for capture, not the landfill. This is very beneficial, as methane has been determined to be a 21 times more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

This gives a huge boost in sustainability to Milwaukee, not only is waste reduced but it is reduced and then turned into energy. On top of this, the energy produced gives the city a large savings in its energy costs, which translated to somewhere in between one and two million dollars in 2007. Some people may think that food waste is not the largest source of waste and that this initiative by Milwaukee and Emerson may not do much. However, the average family of four generates about 2,000 pounds of food waste each year, and the whole US produces about 19 million pounds. That is actually a lot of waste! If a majority of Milwaukeeans do churn their waste down the drain, the city can definitely see the benefits and hopefully more US cities can adopt its methane energy project. The Emerson Milwaukee commercial can be seen below and the whole story can be seen here.


Emerson’s “It’s Never Been Done Before”

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District Website