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Using Digestion & Data to Divert & Eliminate Food Waste

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Bill Kratzer

Food waste continues to be a global crisis. Globally, an estimated 133 billion pounds of food ends up in landfills every year, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming while negatively impacting valuable natural resources such as land and water.   As the earth’s population continues to grow toward nine billion people by the year 2050, we continue to place an enormous burden on our natural resources and our environment while struggling to feed a growing population.

In the United States alone, food waste makes up a staggering amount of landfilled waste.  Thirty-four million tons of food waste is sent to landfills every year. To put that number into perspective, that’s over 200 pounds of food waste per person in the United States, every single year. As greenhouse gasses and global warming continue to become bigger problems in today’s world of globalized industry, new ideas and technologies are needed to deal with this ongoing environmental crisis. With food waste accounting for 35 percent of the waste in landfills, managing this waste more responsibly is an effective way to have a meaningful impact.

Digestion & Diversion

One solution to the problem of landfilling food waste is diversion: disposing of the waste on-site and avoiding the landfill entirely. Aerobic digestion is one such diversion technology. Aerobic digestion uses microorganisms and oxygen to naturally break down food waste into a grey water that can be safely discharged into the sewer system. Not only is this technology clean and green, but it is also economically compelling; the costs of paying haulers to take away food waste can be substantial. Food waste disposal costs in the United States alone have soared to a staggering $165 billion per year.

One example of an aerobic digestion machine is the Eco-Safe Digester from BioHiTech, an on-site aerobic digestion machine that can be deployed in any kitchen, warehouse, food production area, or waste processing area. The machine comes in three different sizes, allowing facilities to process up to 2,400 pounds of food waste per day. The Eco-Safe Digester is easy to use: simply open the food hatch door, place organic waste into the machine, and close the door. The microorganisms inside of the machine will do the rest, quickly breaking down organic waste without the odor and pests normally associated with food stored either on-site for pickup or placed in the compactor.

Aerobic digesters have some obvious benefits.  Diverting waste from landfills has a measurable impact on the environment while disposing waste on-site delivers a compelling cost savings by reducing costly hauling and disposal fees.

While aerobic digesters are an excellent solution for the disposal of food waste in a cost effective and environmental friendly manner, we think more should be done. Food waste prevention should be the ultimate goal but cannot take place without detailed data about that waste stream.

The Value of Big Data

The last three decades have seen remarkable advances in computer technology.   Computers are cheaper, more powerful, and store more data than ever. Wireless computing is pervasive and sensors are everywhere. These innovations and trends allow us to build amazingly smart and powerful systems capable of harvesting mountains of operational data. That data can than be translated and transformed into powerful information that can be used by the average business user to gain valuable insights about their business. The information technology field even has a term for this type of data processing: “Big Data”.

At BioHiTech, we take advantage of these technological advantages and have created BioHiTech Cloud, the waste industry’s first Big Data solution for food waste. Our Eco-Safe Digesters connect to the internet, continuously reporting a fire hose of data back to our cloud, where that data is processed and analyzed. Our customers can use any computing device at anytime to see their waste stream data in real time, allowing them to track food waste diversion, cost savings, and environmental impact.

Actively capturing and measuring waste diversion is an important step towards managing the waste stream. The immediate benefits are numerous. Sustainability teams are armed with diversion data that translate to environmental savings, operations teams are provided cost savings data for ROI analysis, and management teams are awarded the accurate measurement of the waste profile day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and location-to-location to make significantly important changes to labor and procurement.

However, the real benefit of the data comes when the waste stream unearths new insights.   Is machine utilization a correlation to good or bad management? Why do certain days or certain events generate more waste than others? Is there a menu-planning problem? Is there a sourcing issue resulting in spoiled food?

Data-based Decisions

Today, hoteliers are already taking the next step with the rich data provided by aerobic digestion machines. Food processors are scanning waste bins to correlate waste to a specific purchase orders and vendors. Mall operators and grocers are tracking waste by department and food court tenant. Hospital kitchens are breaking down waste by production (pre-consumer) and post-consumer. Hospitality groups are uploading their daily serving counts. These types of data points allow business to make real decisions on vendors, departments, menu plans, and events which have an enormous impact on the waste stream.

Data is a game changer. Businesses have been using data to manage their supply chain for decades. Now, we can arm businesses with data to manage their waste stream. These are the types of changes that will build better businesses today for a more sustainable tomorrow.

Bill Kratzer is the Chief Technology Officer at BioHiTech, where he leads the vision and execution of BioHiTech’s machine-to-machine computing and Big Data strategy. Kratzer, a 20+ year veteran of the IT field, is fascinated with large scale computing services, machine learning, and mobile devices. He can be reached at bkratzer@biohitech.com.

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