Picking a Food Waste Processing System: Part One

Picking a Food Waste Processing System: Part One

Running a business within the food industry is inherently hard.  With food costs continuing to rise, the continual need for marketing and promotion, the challenge of consistent service and customer satisfaction, the idea of bringing in yet another piece of equipment in order to help with food waste might seem like a waste itself.  After all, that’s what dumpsters are for, right?

In some circles, the push for “going green” is translated as a vague, voluntary effort to transition towards a healthier way of doing business.  However, as the technology advances, the idea of using a dedicated system in order to deal with food waste is quickly becoming a truly sustainable, money-saving endeavor, and is shifting from merely optional to advisable.

Since the details concerning the management of food waste can be a bit overwhelming, we’ve decided to break down this topic into two basic sections: 1. reasons why a business might seriously consider getting an on-site food processing system of some kind, and 2. a breakdown of what systems are currently on the market, how they are being used throughout the industry, and the relative benefits for each type.

Over the last few years, there has been a concentrated effort on the parts of both businesses and government agencies to greatly reduce the amount of food waste currently going into landfills around the country.  According to most estimates, between 12-20% (and some official sources claim upwards of 40%) of the total US food supply ends up going to waste, which is a huge problem, not only for the 1 out of 7 Americans who struggle to find enough to eat, but also for the 10% of the American workforce currently employed in the food service industry and the over one million restaurants that employ them.

Every part of the food supply chain is affected by this waste.  Food producers have to pay to grow and store food that ultimately won’t even make it to market, distributors pay for additional storage and gas… you get the picture.  If you owned a business that was only 60% efficient, chances are you would take a significantly closer look at what was causing the issues.  And if you’re currently an active part of that supply chain, it appears as if you do have considerable efficiency issues that are eating into your bottom line.

Not only is food waste a major financial liability, it also has a worrying potential for damaging the planet.  Estimates put methane production from food waste (which, as it turns out, is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas) at a whopping 17% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s without even factoring in secondary contributors such as the approximately 1 billion gallons of gasoline burned by garbage trucks every year.

In order to try and curb the explosive amount of food waste, there have been an increase in the number of governmental efforts to help alleviate the issue.

In September of 2015, the EPA and USDA announced the first-ever national food loss and waste goal, calling for a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030.  Both agencies have committed to partnering with businesses in order to “improve overall food security and conserve our nation’s natural resources.”

Environmental Protection Agency's Food Recovery Hierarchy chart

The official Food Recovery Hierarchy chart from the EPA

There is also a bill that has been introduced to the House floor in December of 2015 (H.R.4184 – Food Recovery Act of 2015) that, if passed, will provide grant incentives to schools and businesses in order to reduce food waste, specifically citing the use of composting and anaerobic digesters.

The state of Massachusetts has even instituted a ban on the disposal of food waste by businesses and institutions that dispose of one or more tons of food waste products.  They specifically list composting, conversion, recycling or reusing materials as ways in which these businesses can cut waste management costs and save money on purchasing.

While there is no “silver bullet” solution for tackling the food waste problem in the food service industry, many restaurants, schools and other institutions are searching out the best solution for them.  The Detroit Zoo is currently in the process of building a biodigester in order to better handle over 400 tons animal waste and organic food waste.  Liberty Island’s Crown Cafe also uses a biodigester in order to process over 1,000 pounds of food waste every day, thereby drastically reducing the number of barge shipments needed to dispose of it.  Harvard Law School utilizes a pulping and composting combination in order to make sure that nothing goes to waste.

These early adopters have loudly touted the benefits of their transition, and have paved the way for future technologies to help other businesses and institutions to take greater control over the amount of waste they produce.

As the United States continues to crack down on the problem of food waste and the technology to assist such efforts continues to become more and more advanced and available, an investigation into the ways that your company might benefit from utilizing an on-site food processing system might not always be optional.

Not only that, but the smart utilization of these technologies can save your business money over time, as the price of goods and services continues to climb.  By reducing the amount of food waste to deal with, you can reduce the manpower needed to handle such waste, cut back on the amount of trash collection you currently require, eliminate sources that might attract pests and produce unpleasant odors, and take a greater control over the efficiencies of your particular part of the greater system.  A 15-40% increase in effectiveness across the board can do nothing but make the process more sustainable and profitable for everyone involved.

While the shift towards a more self-sustained, waste-conscious industry is only now picking up steam, there are still a large selection of quality food processing systems to from which to choose.

In part two of our blog, we will break down the different types of systems in order to help you find the right type of equipment for your particular needs.