New tool targets food waste

These days, when people talk about “innovation” it usually refers to whatever is to become the latest got-to-have-it gadget, like a “smartwatch” or some other electronic “wearable.” Despite garnering all the media attention, such doodads have little to do with most regular day-to-day businesses (unless you happen to sell them, of course.) Which is why it was exciting, yes, exciting to read about a new development in grocery store food waste disposal (also known as throwing food away.)

On March 31, Herald Business Journal editor Jim Davis reported on a Redmond company named Wiserg that has created a machine that turns such waste into liquid fertilizer — rather than it being thrown in a trash compactor, or even a compost heap. And it does it more efficiently than those options, and in a way friendlier to the environment and business.

About 35 million tons of food waste — from all sources — reach landfills and incinerators each year in the United States, according to the EPA, more than any other solid material. Only five percent is diverted for composting.

At the grocery store level, an average store throws away anywhere between 800 pounds to a ton of food waste a day — and most don’t even know how much, Wiserg’s CEO Larry LeSueur said. Which is where his company’s machine — the Harvester — comes in. It has a hopper with a large tank and tablet built in to track food waste. Food is thrown in the hopper, munched up and pumped into the tank where microbes turn it into a black liquid. Wiserg empties full tanks and sells the fertilizer to farmers. The Harvester can also handle meat, bones and other items. Unlike composting, the process captures most of the nutrients in the food waste, doesn’t release warming gas, or create odors.

Central Market in Mill Creek is trying one out. Tony D’Onofrio, the store’s sustainability director, said the machine will cost a little more upfront, but will pay for itself in four years. It will cost less to pay Wiserg than to have composters to haul away food waste.

The Harvester’s high-tech other half is equally impressive: Employees enter the type of food being thrown away and the reason into a tablet built into the machine, which weighs food scraps, and takes digital pictures. The idea is to help stores prevent inventory loss in the first place, and learn how food is being wasted.

The process would seem to have more applications — for restaurants, school cafeterias, and even American homes. Some innovations make so much sense, they don’t need to be “sexy” to be the latest “must have.”