Viewpoints

New solutions to reducing food waste

While perusing the National Restaurant Association’s What Hot 2015 Culinary Forecast, an annual survey of close to 1,300 professional chefs, I was surprised to see a prediction that had nothing to do with what’s on the menu. An analysis of long-term trends says food waste reduction and management will be top concerns for restaurants next year.

One of the reasons the NRA cited for increased worries around food waste is the rising cost of food. (The association recently noted that wholesale food price inflation is at a three-year high.)

Obviously, letting food go to waste can be costly for any business, and supermarkets are just as susceptible as restaurants. A 2012 food waste study from the National Resources Defense Council, citing USDA estimates, said that food retailers lose $15 billion a year just from unsold produce.

Only about 40% of wasted food at supermarkets is recycled or donated, according to a Food Waste Reduction Alliance infographic released last month. That compares to 93.4% at manufacturing facilities and 10% to 60% at restaurants.

Given that there is still a long way to go to divert all of the food that retailers waste, it’s refreshing to see some companies trying out innovative practices beyond donations and composting.

Twelve Wegmans stores have begun sending food scraps to be turned into energy using anaerobic digesters, reports Rochester, N.Y.-based WROC. Just one store creates six tons per week of food trimmings that can be donated as part of the energy program. Overall, food waste accounts for 30% of Wegmans’ trash.

The anaerobic digester is located at a local farm, which is able to completely power its operations with the food scrap donations it receives.

The scraps converted to energy, combined with related composting efforts, amount to 150 tractor trailer loads of food diverted from landfills, wrote Jason Wadsworth, Wegmans’ sustainability coordinator, in a blog post on the retailer’s website.

Similarly, earlier this year New York’s Fairway Market installed aerobic digesters at nine stores. The Eco-Safe Digesters turn food scraps into gray water that can be sent to a standard sewer line.

Each digester can convert up to 2,500 pounds of food waste daily. Since the machines are located at the stores, they also eliminate emissions that would result from trucking scraps to a landfill.

Here’s hoping 2015 will see even more retailers taking advantage of all available options when it comes to reducing food waste.

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