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In 2009, San Francisco became the first local municipal ordinance in the United States to universally require source separation of all organic material, including food residuals. Since then, cities, counties and a handful of states have passed similar legislation requiring commercial facilities that generate large amounts of waste to either send the source separated food waste to an authorized recycling facility or to utilize alternative “on-site” diversion technologies moving the food waste out of landfills.

On-site food waste diversion technology is being utilized by many commercial facilities including food service companies, restaurants, grocery stores and corporations not only because the environmental benefits result in carbon footprint reductions, but also because this alternative solution has proven to be cost-effective, scalable and complies with legislation initiatives. Digesters utilize microorganisms to accelerate and break down food until soluble, where it is then flushed into the sewage system.

It was also recently proven that the effluent created during the digestion process is a viable end-solution for anaerobic digestion (AD). When an aerobic digester is at the point of waste generation, it acts as the first step in the anaerobic digestion process called hydrolysis, making the AD process already more efficient. Because the aerobic digestion process begins with the breakdown of solid organics to a liquid slurry, the effluent is able to be either transported through the sewage system to municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants that utilize AD to power the plant itself or easily tanked, pumped and transported, arriving at the AD facility in a “predigested” condition allowing for efficient feedstock transfer and eliminating the need for costly processing at an AD facility.

This effort combines two highly attractive emerging technologies introducing another effective way to recycle food waste. But while making renewable energy from food that can’t be eaten is admirable it merely manages the symptoms and does not address the food waste problem.

Prevention avoids the unnecessary production, transportation or storage of food offering considerable social, environmental and economic benefits and should be the first priority for the effective management of food waste. But without data on those wasteful practices changes can’t be made.

While aerobic digesters are capable of aiding in the recycling of food waste some are also a prevention solution with their inclusion of data and analytics. As food waste is added to some digesters, an on board scale can weigh and catalog each item that is added. That data is immediately stored and within seconds messages, alerts, and analytics are communicated from the digester to the customer offering an enormous opportunity for improvement.

The analytics of what is being wasted, by whom, in which department or from which supplier, offers a great level of efficiency and potential to create less waste. A disposal technology that includes waste analytic software to track, monitor and analyze kitchen waste will identify what changes need to be made in order to prevent and lower overall waste levels.

With a mindful eye on the legislative climate surrounding food waste and its subsequent disposal savvy businesses are already embracing emerging technologies to help them reduce waste and improve the waste disposal process. While there exists significant efforts and solutions that recycle large amounts of food waste the greatest value is through prevention.