By Stacy Ward
Editor in Chief

Healthy is in and restaurants are responding with more plant-based menu options, cleaner ingredients, and low-cal substitutions. All of which is good for the country’s waistline but is inadvertently contributing to the mountains of trash covering its landfills. Think organic material, vegetable scraps, avocado peels, fish and shells. Discarded food accounts for 22 percent of the waste in the nation’s dumping grounds and a great deal of it comes from commercial institutions and restaurants, says the EPA.

“As consumers continue to demand fresher and healthier choices, there will be more fruits and vegetables to peel, cut and prepare—meaning more food scraps to manage in more places,” says Chad Severson, the president of InSinkErator. He sees mounting efforts to divert the amount of food waste headed for landfills in states and abroad as an opportunity to have an impact on a growing crisis. “One major driver of our business growth is the growing number of municipalities, states and countries banning commercial kitchens from sending their food waste to landfills, so we’ve invested in new technologies and designs to help solve this problem for customers,” Severson says.

Currently, there are five states that have waste reduction plans or organics laws for commercial businesses—California, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. And, there are four more considering bans prohibiting restaurants, and other entities that generate large quantities of food, from sending their organic waste to landfills. InSinkErator and parent company Emerson have responded by partnering with several large-scale operations to offer more sustainable solutions, like its Grind2Energy program. It meshes well with the fast-paced churn of grocery store chains, casinos and venues like the Cleveland Browns’ FirstEnergy Stadium, where there is lots of food, buffets and leftovers.

The Grind2Energy program takes that excess and turns it into renewable energy using a grinder, a holding tank, IoT connectivity, and an anaerobic digester. “It’s all about capturing commercial food waste for the purposes of using that energy in the form of captured methane gas,” says Severson.

Southern California’s Northgate Gonzalez Markets embraced the manufacturer’s Grind2Energy system as part of a pilot program in 2016 after California began requiring businesses that generate 8 cubic yards of organic waste per week to recycle their waste. That equates to about 120 13-gallon trash bags. Northgate uses six cases of avocados per day, in just one location, to prepare guacamole and other freshly-prepared items.  

Prior to implementing Grind2Energy, the grocer would place those peels and other scraps in boxes, stack them on pallets, and then transport them to its distribution center for composting. Now, what used to take several hours is done in 90 minutes. Workers take the scraps to the Grind2Energy processing table, where they’re dumped into a 10 HP grinder. The industrial-strength grinder is equipped with dry-grind technology and IoT sensors to minimize water use and can grind produce, bones, grains, fats and oils.

After the scraps are ground into slurry, it’s pumped into an onsite holding tank (sized to meet the needs of each customer). The one that demolishes the leftover cheeseburgers, fries and cooking oil in FirstEnergy Stadium is a 3,000-gallon tank and stretches roughly 10 feet. According to an Aramark executive chef, more than 119 tons of food has been siphoned through the unit and recycled since the Browns started using the system in 2013.

Commercial kitchen operators continue to demand technology that helps them improve operational efficiency while minimizing costs. “For InSinkErator,” says Severson, “this means offering easier to use equipment that draws less power, uses less water and minimizes food waste management costs. We are responding with our IoT, PLC [Programmable Logic Controller] and HMI [Human Machine Interface] technologies to improve our customer’s experience and meet their demands.”

In need of a way to closely monitor slurry tanks, better schedule preventative maintenance and provide customers with performance data and analytics, Emerson partnered with AT&T in 2017, adding to its Grind2Energy system a new suite of data-driven capabilities. Via IoT connectivity, and the manufacturer’s online interface, customers can access their data, gauge day-to-day operational activities, and measure the impact of their sustainability practices on the environment.

The technology also helps Emerson keep a close eye on the equipment, aiding in predictive maintenance, and alerts local tank service providers when it’s time to drain the slurry and transfer it to an anaerobic digester. There, bacteria and other microbes feed on the decomposing food and naturally converts it into water, fertilizer and methane that is captured to produce renewable energy.

“Grinding food waste is an environmentally responsible option versus putting it in a landfill,” Severson says. “As more commercial operators become familiar with the benefits of grinding food waste, we have the potential to reduce landfill waste and establish a source of renewable energy at the same time.”

Aside from a slew of testimonials from Grind2Energy converts, praise for the manufacturer’s innovation has come in the form of recognition from Whole Foods Market, which selected Grind2Energy as its Green Supplier of the Year in 2015. More recently, it received another nod in 2017 from Connected World when Grind2Energy was named one of the magazine’s IoT Innovations Award recipients “for its advancements in using IoT to help businesses reduce avoidable waste while maximizing the efficiency of Grind2Energy’s process for recycling unavoidable waste.”

“Grind2Energy is a perfect example of how IoT-enabled solutions will help transform the way humans live,” said Peggy Smedley, editorial director at Connected World, in announcing the award. “By creating something valuable like clean water and renewable energy from discarded waste, and by using the IoT to manage these processes, we’re creating a better world for our grandchildren.” ■

“Cities are looking at food waste disposers as a great tool to help divert food waste from landfills.” — Chad Severson