Using Technology to Combat Food Waste
Grocers are increasingly citing food waste management as a focus of their business as they seek to make their business more sustainable. Choosing the right food waste management solution takes some trial and error – there’s no one solution that fits all. Effective food waste management requires a strategy that considers understanding the problem and working through the process to find a solution that works for the grocer and its staff to be successful.
To prevent food waste, grocers need an on-site real-time technology solution that offers transparency regarding what’s being disposed of to help identify specific actions that would result in less waste. A technology-based solution can improve inventory management, increase operational efficiency, decrease waste, and ultimately make any grocer savvier about the way in which it manages and disposes of that waste.
Landfills are the oldest form of waste treatment, and historically the most common, with food waste alone accounting for 22 percent of the waste — more than any other single material — decomposing in our landfills. Solutions like aerobic digesters have the capacity to process thousands of pounds of food waste on-site, breaking down food into liquid, which can then be simply discharged into the sewer system, keeping the waste out the waste stream and out of landfills, dramatically reducing the reliance on those landfills.
Aerobic digesters are also a regulatory-compliant solution in cities and states that have organics bans in place, as well as an environmentally responsible alternative to traditional waste disposal methods.
When comparing the most common methods for the disposal of food waste, processing the material on-site is the fastest, most cost-effective means to managing what’s often the messiest and most irritating part of an employee’s day.
Composting and Anaerobic Digestion
Other solutions for the disposal of organic waste are composting and anaerobic digestion. While these three solutions overlap in their preservation of landfill space, most cities lack the framework needed to accept a large influx of food waste from the commercial sector, and the costs and environmental impact to cart the waste to either a compost facility or anaerobic digester are significant.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the aerobic technology process centers on exactly what’s being sent down the drain when an aerobic digester is used. A 2015 University of Delaware study examined four food waste management pathways: transporting aerobically digested waste through the sewer to a wastewater treatment plant for further treatment, trucking aerobically digested waste to an anaerobic digester for further treatment and conversion into energy, trucking the waste to a landfill for disposal, and trucking the waste to a compost facility for further treatment. The study concluded that releasing wastewater into the sewer is an environmentally favorable pathway.
Continued research needs to be done to fully vet the effects of the positive and negative effects of the digester outflow on wastewater treatment plants to help the industry and future stakeholders feel more confident in the product and the technology, and its potential to help solve the global food waste disposal problem.