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Bio-digesters: One Highly Effective Way to Manage Food Waste Flow

Iain Milnes

Businesses care about the sustainability of our planet and they are seeking partners who also care about the planet. Business partners adapt this green initiative in choosing hotels for lodging and facilities where they will hold their conferences.

Change the light bulbs to LEDs. Put some solar panels on the roof. These are great steps to take to reduce your carbon footprint. But what do you do with your property’s food waste? A total of 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted annually worldwide. Sending solid food waste to a landfill can create more than 10 times the effect on global warming than you save with your LEDs and solar panels combined.

Food wasting in a landfill decomposes in the absence of air—anaerobically—creating methane and other smells. Methane is 72 times worse for the atmosphere than CO2. That’s why it gets such attention and why no one wants a landfill at the end of their street.

States and cities across the United States know this—and so do your customers. More and more professional meeting planners submit forms to hotels asking about more than the capacity of function space. They want to know about carbon footprint and efforts involving sustainability. They are aware that states have started demanding that food waste no longer be sent to landfills. Massachusetts now has a ban on commercial organic waste by businesses that dispose of one ton or more of materials each week. California no longer permits commercial generators of large amounts of food waste to send it to landfills. State legislators are waking up to the effect caused by rotting food in landfills across the country.

Austin Has 2040 Zero Waste Goal

Cities are getting in the act, too. Austin, Texas, recently instated a green initiative to reach zero waste by 2040, meaning the city needs to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills by 90 percent. New York City’s requirement to weigh food waste is one that causes problems for many businesses. Portland, Ore., San Francisco, and Boulder, Colo. are also in various stages of reviewing and passing legislation. If businesses are not already affected by legislation, they soon will be.

To stop moving waste food to a landfill and to weigh the food waste to comply with regulations are requirements that have hotels and conference facilities concerned about where to start in mitigating the problem. What are the viable options for the industry to get on track with sustainability?

An average of 70 million tons of food waste finds its way into the nation’s landfills annually. The solution, which takes transporting waste over the roads out of the loop, is to deploy a bio-digester on site. A bio-digester is a stainless steel stomach that eats what customers don’t eat. It does this aerobically—in the presence of air—so there are no smells. It sits on site in a commercial kitchen and works all day and night.

Space is always a premium asset in the kitchen of a hotel, conference center, or restaurant. A bio-digester for a hotel or restaurant is the size of a desk and typically utilizes the space taken by huge bins used to move food waste to a dumpster. It can be operated continuously, eliminating heavy lifting of waste containers to outdoor bins. It churns and breaks down waste in 24 hours, using water injected to flush the biodegraded material through the system.

Reasonable Payback Time

A question often raised is the cost of implementing a system to mitigate the problem of food waste. Changing a process and adapting new technology generally involve costs associated with the new technology itself. The payback in the reduction of trash pickup is typically six to 24 months. In the long run the bio-digesters create a safe and economical resolution for the hospitality and conference industry and comply with new regulations. The payback for employees and customers is priceless.

Bio-digesters will continue to help advance the global movement toward sustainability and zero waste initiatives. In the hospitality industry, indications are that business partners will align themselves with companies illustrating due diligence towards the environment.

Iain Milnes is Founder and President of Power Knot. Power Knot provides the Liquid Food Composter, a bio-digester designed to digest up to 4,000 pounds of waste food per day and help businesses better understand and manage company resources while reducing waste.