Closing the Loop: An On-Site, Circular Economy Solution for Grocery Retailer Food Waste

Closing the Loop: An On-Site, Circular Economy Solution for Grocery Retailer Food Waste

Optimizing a ‘farm to fork’ food strategy has been an objective within the grocery sector in recent years, through initiatives such as improved access to locally grown fresh and wholesome raw and prepared foods.

But the ‘farm to fork’ voyage represents only one part of the story.  What happens to the organic by-products generated by grocery stores that are unsuitable for consumption such as trimmings, expired and off-specification stuffs that pose a food safety risk?

Unfortunately, in most cases these organic ‘wastes’ are placed into an on-site waste compactor and sent to landfill. In some cases where there is suitable space and infrastructure at the grocery store, organic wastes are separated on-site and sent to a compost facility or other beneficial end-use application such as an anaerobic digester.

What if there was an economic and viable option to manage these organic materials ‘on-site’ – one that could convert it back into a valuable soil amendment?

Changing the status quo requires a new way of thinking – an approach that is practical, can be proven to work, and that can provide both tangible business and sustainability benefits.  With these goals in mind, Food Cycle Science partnered with Farm Boy Inc. to demonstrate the performance of their Food Cycler™ system to process organic waste ‘on-site’ at Farm Boy’s grocery store in Cornwall, Ontario.

Farm Boy Inc. is a retail grocery store chain which focuses on providing market fresh quality produce, meat and groceries. The Cornwall  location is one of 28 retail locations within Ontario and with a total area of 2,255 m2 is representative of most retail chain grocery stores in Ontario.

Food Cycle Science, based out of Cornwall, Ontario is the manufacturer of the Food Cycler™ residential and commercial units.  The residential units are able to process five Litres of organic waste within three to six hours. The commercial units range in size between 80 to 1,000 Litres and can process organic materials within 12 to 18 hours, depending on the moisture content and feedstock characteristics.

While there are conventional options to divert organic waste from landfills, such diversion generally requires off-site processing (e.g., composting).  These result in costs, GHG production and other environmental impacts associated with handling, storing, processing and transportation.  In addition, commercial agri-food retailers such as grocers are often space and resource limited; leaving limited opportunity for what can be complicated organic waste management systems.

Commercial Size Food Cycler™

The Food Cycler™ has the immediate appeal of being a small footprint option, while being able to significantly reduce the mass and volume of organic waste. The system uses a combination of heat, mechanical agitation and an activated carbon filter to dehydrate, sterilize and deodorize organic waste, while reducing its volume by upwards of 90%, along with a significant reduction in mass. The combined benefits of this system are not only greatly minimized storage requirements, but also a reduction in GHGs from not having to haul untreated organic wastes to off-site management options.

Food Cycle Science Food Cycler™

“One of our core ideas was how can we change how people think about food waste? How can we take something that was once viewed as garbage and turn it into something of value. W
e’ve created a ‘Farm to Table, Table to Farm’, circular economy solution – our coin phrase for this is Yuck to Yum.” – Brad Crepeau, President and CEO of Food Cycle Science

Most importantly, the Food Cycler™ not only greatly reduces the volume of organic food waste, the end product produced contains high amounts of useful macro nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  As such, it provides grocery retailers with a solution to convert what is currently a ‘waste’ into a product with the potential to generate commercial value as a beneficial soil nutrient additive supporting plant growth.  This becomes a sellable material for grocers utilizing the Food Cycler™, promoting a circular economy.  This aligns very well with grocers such as Farm Boy Inc., who already cater to a clientele which are supportive of environmentally friendly initiatives as well as actively support locally and home grown produce.  Minimal additional infrastructure would be needed by grocers to commercialize the Food Cycler™ material for sale since many already operate seasonal garden centres.

Farm Boy Fresh Produce

“Making Life Better is one of the components of our corporate vision.  But doing so can mean looking at new ways to do things better.  This is one of the reasons that Farm Boy partnered with Food Cycle Science to look at how to re-think food-waste.” – Jeff York, Co-CEO Farm Boy Inc.

The outcomes from this project will be used by Farm Boy Inc. to support their food waste management objectives and whether to install this system in other stores across Ontario. In addition, the results and insights can be shared with other major grocery retailers to show that practical on-site solutions to process and convert food waste into a beneficial end-product are commercially available.

Funding for this project was provided through the BLOOM Clean Technology Demonstration Program.  Further details on the portfolio of the 13 funded projects can be found on the BLOOM Clean Technology Demonstration Program web page.

BLOOM: Making it Easier. Clean and Simple. BLOOM is a recognized and trusted authority on sustainability and clean technology solutions. BLOOM works actively with Ontario stakeholders to adopt practical and affordable low carbon solutions that deliver economic, environmental and social benefits. Follow BLOOM on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube

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