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The grocery chain is testing a bio-digestion system at its store in Montgomery. The machine uses bacteria to decompose fruits, vegetables, meats and other food waste until they’re reduced to almost nothing but water.

Last month, the machine processed roughly 10 tons of food that would have otherwise been thrown away.

“It’s good for business and good for the environment,” said Tom Urtz, ShopRite vice president of community affairs.

The Eco-Safe Digester, which looks like an industrial-size, stainless steel barbecue grill, is made by a New Jersey company called BioHitech America. The company said it has installed about 100 of the machines throughout the tri-state area, including ones at grocery stores, hospitals, and prisons.
The digestion process is relatively simple. Employees at ShopRite continuously load food waste into the machine, which is outfitted with wood chips and digestive bacteria. The machine works at a steamy 103 degrees, adding a spritz of water every 15 minutes.

Five paddles churn the mixture while bacteria gobble on the food. BioHitech marketing manager Lisa Giovannielli said 95 percent of the food scraps eventually turn to effluent, a cloudy water, which trickles into a drain pipe and leaves the store. The remaining solids are cleaned out of the machine every six months. Fresh bacteria is added every two months.

She scooped up a handful of the brownish mixture on Wednesday to show it was harmless. It also was nearly odorless.

“See?” she joked. “I’m not going to get a rash and I still have pretty nails.”

The machine can handle almost any food, from steaks and fish, to popcorn and produce.

Each one costs $25,000-$45,000, depending on its size. Giovannielli said the machine usually pays for itself within two years by cutting a company’s garbage-hauling bills.

ShopRite is testing it at stores in Montgomery and White Plains to decide if the savings warrant a company-wide deployment.

In Montgomery, the machine has processed roughly 5,000 pounds of outdated food each week, yielding some 500 gallons of effluent each day. Previously, that food would have been stuffed into a trash compactor and hauled to a landfill.

Store director Bob Gillick said his ShopRite already has eliminated one garbage haul a month because of it, and he hopes to divert even more waste as employees become familiar with the machine. To steer them away from the old trash compactor, Gillick recently had a contest to name the digester.

The winner?
“We call it ‘Sir Eat-a-Lot,’ ” he said.