For decades, food waste has been a cause for concern across the United Kingdom. The hospitality and food service industries alone producing close to 3.5m tons of food waste a year, of which almost 2m tons ends up in landfill, so it is easy to see why it has become an issue that has drawn substantial attention, including that of the government. And it’s an issue that affects everyone. When food waste is disposed of in a landfill, it releases damaging greenhouse gases and leachate, a toxin capable of considerable groundwater pollution.
Climate change is a serious subject and in order for the UK to meet international targets on climate change, by lowering greenhouse gas and diesel emissions, and meeting obligations under the European Landfill Directive to reduce biodegradable waste going to landfill, the industry needs accurate information on waste and food waste in particular. This data is vital in helping government and environmental agencies implement the efficiencies required to drive significant change.
One solution for segregating food waste at its source, diverting from landfill, reducing diesel emissions and providing, to the kilogram, accurate data on the food waste being generated, is emerging through technology recently introduced into the UK market.
In October 2015, BioHiTech Global announced the creation of BioHiTech Europe, a UK-registered subsidiary, to introduce Eco-Safe Digester technology to the UK and wider European markets. The clean-tech product offers a new data-driven solution for food waste disposal that effectively, economically and responsibly disposes of food waste.
Alex Giacchetti, president of BioHiTech Europe, explains that in the early days the company focused on research & development and getting the technology optimized. “In the last five or six years we’ve developed a commercial product that works. That was quite a stepping-stone for us. Then in October last year, we set up BioHiTech Europe. We thought we’d use the UK as the first market to start.”
The company’s Eco-Safe Digester is an on-site aerobic digester that uses natural microorganisms to digest food waste and convert it into nutrient-neutral water, which is disposed of through a standard sewer line.
The Eco-Safe Digester is equipped with built-in load sensors that automatically weigh the food waste each time it is added, determining where, when, and how much food waste is being disposed. The BioHiTech Cloud simultaneously monitors key metrics delivering accurate volume and environmental reports to help businesses understand what is being wasted and how to reduce and eliminate their waste.
The BioHiTech solution combines on-site disposal technology with big data to diver the waste and provide the tools to optimize the food waste disposal process.
Reducing waste and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions are undoubtedly important goals, but the digester can achieve more than that, say Giacchetti. The Eco-Safe Digester is saving UK businesses money, increasing revenues, and providing them with a competitive advantage while improving their operating efficiency.
And its not just operational cost savings – sustainability generates top line value too. Research indicates that when customers are presented with the choice of similar shopping, dining or hotel options, they tend to pic the one they perceive as more sustainable.
White Rose shopping centre in Leeds installed the Eco-Safe food waste digester in November 2015 to increase the sustainability profile of the centre and secure significant cost savings.
The model Eco-Safe 12 unit, designed to digest between 300 and 1,90kg of food waste during a 24-hour period, was installed in the centre’s waste room adjacent to the main food destination. It converts food waste in to water which is conveniently and safely discharged to a standard drain. The digester is connected to a settlement tank to recover any fat, grease or oils.
The centre’s facility managers report that their wet waste disposal costs have reduced by two thirds form their pre-Eco-Safe Digester days when costs were over £4,000 per month. Almost all food waste generated on site is now diverted to the Eco-Safe Digester system.
Key to all food waste onsite being diverted through the digester is that waste that had been compacted as general waste, including food waste, has now been eliminated. Cardboard and DMR (Dry Mixed Recycling) waste is easily being segregated an is now clean from food contamination, allowing the centre to generate income from the clean cardboard, and the DMR waste is not collected at half the price compared to what was previously pad for general waste to be collected. The general waste proportion has been reduced form 56 percent to 8 per cent.
In addition to reducing its waste food removal costs, the White Rose centre reported considerable additional benefits including: improved recycling and reduced general waste, improved cleanliness, reduced spillages and spilt bags, no slippery floors, no smells, no flies or vermin, reduced manual handling, improvements to health & safety and cleaner corridors.
On top of the environmental and economic advantages of onsite food waste digestion, users are also provided with detailed live data to help support their efforts to improve efficiencies. The reporting by restaurant feature from the BioHiTech Cloud enables the centre to measure and monitor individual tenant’ food waste and raise awareness in order to work with retailers to reduce food waste and improve recycling.
Since installation, the digester at White Rose has been viewed and followed by a number of shopping centres across the country with the roll-out process now underway to other shopping centres and retail parks as part of their strong sustainability initiatives.
“These guys have taken their first machines over the last 12 months and we’re getting to the point now where the conversations we’re having with them are developing quite nicely because they’ve now ben able to see the results of the technology” says Giacchetti
Since White Rose shopping centre has been able to prove the effectiveness of digester technology in improving waste separation and recycling rates, Market Place Bolton, Victoria Gate in Leeds an Westfield Stratford City in London have all adopted the technology, with a strong pipeline of other shopping centres and retail parks about to come on board with this disruptive technology.
The proof is in the number. In the past 12 months White Rose, Market Place, Victoria Gate and Westfield Stratford have diverted a combined 190 tonnes of food waste, translating into an equivalent saving of 29.7 waste trucks off the road, 159 cubic metres of landfill space, 148 metric tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent, and 62,773 litres of fuel, which is the equivalent of traveling 624,519 miles or 1,500 trips between Edinburgh and London.