Can grocers digest their way to zero waste?
A growing number of grocery stores are using anaerobic digester technology in their operations to minimize the amount of their food waste ends up in landfills.
A recent order placed by a regional grocery chain in New York for six food digesters capable of breaking down 800 pounds of organic material per day, as reported by Waste Today, is one recent instance of the recycling method being implemented.
Numerous vendors offer digester machines, which grind up, heat and chemically break down discarded food waste into a combination of water and an environmentally neutral compost. Some anaerobic digesters also capture the gas released from the food waste digestion process and use it to generate electricity to help power the operation.
As larger grocery chains have upped their focus on sustainability, some have adopted digester technology in select locations.
Last year, Kroger added a $9.5 million anaerobic digester at its K.B. Specialty Foods manufacturing plant, according to a separate article from Waste Today. The plant makes deli salads, cake icing and other packaged goods sold at Kroger locations. This is the second anaerobic digester the chain has rolled out as part of its sustainability initiatives under the Restock Kroger program. The first has been in place since 2013 at a Ralphs-Food 4 Less distribution center in California.
Stop & Shop in Freetown, MA opened its own 1.2 million-gallon anaerobic digester facility in 2016 in response to a state law banning the placing of organic material in landfills, according to a Belmont Journal report on YouTube. Food products that are not purchased in stores and pass their expiration date are shipped back to the anaerobic digester facility to be processed. The facility processes 95 tons of organic material per week.
In pursuit of creating zero waste, some stores have also worked to make an impact on the packaging end by cutting down on the sale of vegetables, fruits and other products that come pre-packed in plastic. Others have gone as far as to sell fruit completely loose with no store-supplied bag or offer perishables in compostable containers.
- Kroger plant adds new anaerobic digester in pursuit of zero-waste goals – Waste Today
- Kroger anaerobic digester zero waste – Waste Today
- Stop & Shop Anaerobic Digester – YouTube
- Can grocers sell produce without plastic bags and boxes? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does anaerobic digester technology show promise as a realistic solution to retailers’ food waste challenges? What problems might prevent this or similar solutions from being adopted at scale?