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The humble waste treatment system can sometimes be overlooked in the myriad of considerations a catering equipment distributor has to take into account when specifying a commercial kitchen. But arguably this appliance is something which can not only satisfy hygiene requirements but also add profit to an operator’s bottom line. Therefore, should it rise up the priority ranks of a project, and should all parties engage with each other more on the subject?

According to Paul Anderson, MD of Meiko UK, which manufactures the WasteStar FC line of vacuum food waste handlers: “Some operators still focus on cost versus benefit, putting more emphasis on initial purchase cost, not long-term benefit. This makes it more difficult to approach the sale of a complete food waste vacuum handling system that will last for decades, cuts labor, improves hygiene and delivers a planet-friendly result in terms of biogas.

“A shorter-term product solution that costs less in terms of capital and creates nothing but grey water could be a useful stop-gap while end users figure out where the real long-term benefits are.

“The onus is on suppliers and dealers to contribute with education and understanding, and perhaps even site visits to existing locations which have invested in long term solutions, some of which are generating power for the user’s own kitchens from their own food waste.”

While he acknowledged that the main priorities in a kitchen are always going to be cooking and front of house, he believes: “Dealers do increasingly understand the need for a quality dishwashing solution that incorporates food waste handling and is well constructed and, perhaps more importantly, well designed and installed and supported with first class technical support and product training.

“The priority on food waste management will increase as the equipment solutions evolve and users understand more about the long-term savings and energy generating possibilities.”

Anderson recognizes that a vacuum food waste handling system will usually be among the costlier solutions available, adding: “But unlike many of the competitor solutions, vacuum food waste handling provides a foundation for the future and will give payback for decades.”

He underlined: “A Meiko WasteStar CC vacuum waste inlet is about the same size as an undercounter dishwasher and if that is still too large, inlets can be built into counters in the dishwashing area, costing nothing in terms of floor space in the kitchen.”

At Wrexham-based IMC, waste treatment is an issue close to the firm’s heart and it has been campaigning for more consideration of these appliances. Martin Venus, head of sales, UK and Ireland detailed: “I think manufacturers’ sales teams are generally better at engaging and building desire/interest with end users and then feeding the business back through the dealer network once a connection has been established.

“But this is because they are more confident in their products and what they know. There are distributors who will make waste a priority and proactively push waste management products and the benefits, but unfortunately these are few and far between.”

In fact, he feels that dealers don’t give waste management high enough priority, adding: “Sales teams often have numerous brands that they sell across many categories in the kitchen and as a result cannot be experts in every area.

“Whilst it is our job to educate our dealer network I also think that as sales people we often take the path of least resistance, sell what we can and move on. Waste management is not a quick, or easy, solution to sell, despite the fact that it ticks the green box and can save the end user money in the process.”

Elaborating on costs, Venus feels that systems don’t have to be expensive: “However, manufacturers need to guarantee a return on their investment to cover the research, time, product testing and effort spent developing these products.

“If demand was higher, manufacturing would undoubtedly become cheaper as a result of increased buying power with regard to components as well as efficiency savings that could be made during the manufacturing process. These savings, assuming they were passed on to the end user, would result in lower retail prices.”

As for the charge that waste treatment systems can be too bulky, he said: “I think there is always room for improvement and new innovation to make equipment more compact, efficient and user friendly. However, this also requires more investment in product development which is both costly and potentially risky without a guaranteed demand. It really is a chicken and egg situation that manufacturers face.”

Elsewhere, Mechline’s marketing manager Kristian Roberts feels that while there has been a certain amount of industry engagement on the issue, much has been misdirected. “Efforts shouldn’t be focused on trying to hide the problem by pushing solutions that simply take the current situation away from the operator,” he underlined.

“The first point of engagement should be on how a foodservice establishment can reduce the waste to landfill they are creating. How best to achieve those goals is another challenge altogether. Many foodservice operators are yet to even implement a basic food waste reduction program and end-of-life food monitoring system, and this is where more engagement is needed.”

Mechline has itself instigated a Food Waste Reduction Program (FWRP) to highlight best practice on how to manage end-of-life food waste in a circular way. This begins with prevention, reduction and reuse and followed where necessary with redistribution, recycle and reprocess. “The right waste treatment systems – which include efforts to reduce food waste – can save operators money,” said Roberts.

On the dealer side of the issue, he believes: “Waste treatment is outside the remit of many traditional foodservice equipment dealers and unless there is a willingness or incentive for them to increase their knowledge/portfolio there won’t be much change.

“Specialist waste treatment companies are ever increasing and entering the foodservice industry. Unfortunately, these waste companies normally specialize in or favor one technology. Each site is different and any solution needs to be based on a consideration of all the technologies available, in order to get the best solution for any given operation.”

Mechline’s own Waste₂O treatment system is designed to be a compact, lightweight and scalable solution. It can be stripped down to 760mm minimum width, which should allow installation access where larger machines cannot gain access. As with all systems, the size of unit dictates how much food waste can be processed.

Roberts explained: “Each Waste₂O unit can digest up to 180kg over a 24-hour period, any more and multiple units are used to scale-up the system. But the potential for effective smaller units would require operators to reduce their amount of food waste (and give them even more incentive to do so).”

Another company making a big push in the UK market right now is BioHiTech. According to UK business development director Kerry Vaughan: “In my experience, most waste treatment engagement is conducted between end users and manufacturer suppliers. Equipment dealers tend not to place a great deal of importance on food waste management because it’s seen as a non-profit making element of a location. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The adoption of food waste systems replaces existing costs for waste collection. In the case of BioHiTech units, the cloud-based reporting capability enables businesses to understand their waste by the minute, day, week etc. Providing the key data with which to recognize issues enables sites to make the changes required to improve food production and foodservice operations.”

She added: “If you consider that all facilities choosing to have their waste collected need to dedicate space to store it, the adoption of systems can actually reduce the space required to handle food waste. The adoption of systems doesn’t just improve foodservice operations, they enable locations to re-utilize space that would otherwise be problematic in terms of health and safety and vermin control.”

Vaughan believes that more often than not, the desire to do something positive about how food waste is handled starts with operators rather than dealers. “Despite the UK government’s focus on our problems with food waste and its disposal, equipment dealers, designers and consultants generally remain unappreciative of the significant advantages systems offer. However, this is changing as industry associations become more interested and realize that they can help drive change for the better, by improving operations, reducing costs and helping the environment.”

Over at PKL, which supplies the Garbage Guzzler food waste digester to the UK, the firm is on a mission to get the industry to address and tackle food waste in particular as an issue. PKL chief executive Lee Vines said: “We have an open and active relationship with our customers and began supplying the Garbage Guzzler as a direct response to their needs. Helping our customers understand food waste and its impact on the environment and a business’ bottom line is at the heart of our marketing and business development work.”

He believes that with the right choices waste solutions need not seem expensive. “Our own Garbage Guzzler reduces the need for bin collections, by taking food out of the waste stream altogether. The output from the machine can be used as soil improver or biofuel, which can be sold or used to reduce heating costs. The food waste is also reduced in volume and weight by up to 70% in just 24 hours.

“So, the right waste systems don’t have to be seen as an additional cost on the business, they can reduce overall costs. Also, many systems can be procured through flexible payment terms – we offer the Garbage Guzzler on a contract rental for example, which reduces the burden on the capital expenditure budget.”

To combat the often lack of space available in kitchens, Vines underlined: “Waste management systems can be large or small, and have also been designed to fit either inside a commercial kitchen or to be placed somewhere else at a premises, such as utility or bin store areas.

“Therefore, if a commercial kitchen is too small to house a food waste digester, there are other options available for anyone looking to incorporate a system. The Garbage Guzzler along with a many of the other waste management system aren’t much bigger than a medium sized commercial bin in terms of width, so in theory, you could replace a food waste bin with a food waste digester without taking up much more space than you are already using.”

Clear up with clarity

Waste management equipment is a topic that supplier trade body CESA has been undertaking a lot of work on, with chairman Glenn Roberts commenting: “It’s a complicated subject and there’s no doubt that many operators struggle to come to terms with it.

“That’s not surprising when not only are there plenty of options, but also the legislation can be complex and it varies, depending on where you are in the UK. What’s needed is clarity. Manufacturers and suppliers need to make sure the customer understands what legislation applies in their area and what options are available – and how their costs vary.”

CESA is currently producing a guide to waste management, due to be published later in 2018. It will give the industry an insight into all the options available and their relative benefits.

Roberts advised distributors: “Although it’s an essential, the waste management system is probably just about the least sexy part of a scheme, so if any cost is going to get squeezed it’s usually first in line. Dealers need to have a full understanding of the site’s waste management requirements in order to advise the customer.”

He feels that food waste disposers are relatively inexpensive and can be an effective and ‘green’ solution, while curbside collection can be relatively low cost too. “The most cost-efficient solution is reducing food waste – for example, by tweaking production methods, changing menus or adjusting portion sizes.”

On sizing, he added: “As with other equipment categories, food waste system manufacturers are responding to the shrinking kitchen with slim line models and new technologies that take up less space but still do the job effectively.”