Wegmans Turns Food Into Electricity
“Approximately 80 billion pounds of food waste are discarded in the US landfills each year.” While this number is bad, what’s worse is that “while food is going to waste, 37 million Americans struggle to put enough food on the table to feed their families” (Sustainability Toolkit Press Release). What if the leftover food that can still be eaten could go to food banks and the food that can’t be eaten could be used to produce electricity? This is exactly what Wegmans is doing.
In April 2014, a press release was sent out to announce that an alliance of food manufactures created a toolkit called Best Practices and Emerging Solutions. The topics in the toolkit include: tactics for food donations, technologies for recycling food waste and energy production, and strategic planning to avoid food waste. Wegmans is a member of the food alliance group and created its own comprehensive store recycling guidelines which have greatly decreased the amount of food that is being wasted. Stores are encouraged to recycle and are even paid extra as an incentive. The company created a hierarchy of food recycling: sell (all product available for sale), re-use (items that are not for sale, but can be used in another department), donate (to food banks and other organizations), donate (to farmers for animals or compost), and finally deposit to a landfill.
While the company is now putting more emphasis on recycling and decreasing food waste, Wegmans is no stranger to donating to charity. Since 1993, Wegmans website boasts that it has raised nearly $21 million through its checkout lanes for local food banks. In 2013 alone, Wegmans donated 16.5 million pounds of food to local food banks and pantries. While it is commendable that Wegmans donates tons of food to the hungry, it is not uncommon for other supermarkets to do the same. What is uncommon is what they do with the food they cannot sell.
WROC recently did a story on what one of Wegmans stores in Pittsford, NY, is accomplishing. Each week the store averages about 6 tons of waste (i.e. trimmings, scraps, etc). This waste is put aside until it is picked up by a Natural Upcycle truck almost daily and then taken to a local farm. The story goes on to tell how the food is then put into an anaerobic digester where it is heated to 104 degrees and mixed with other bacteria. This lets off a biogas that can be converted into electricity through a generator. This process reportedly creates enough electricity to power the entire farm, equivalent to the amount of electricity needed to power 400 homes for one year. Not only does it create electricity, but it is also good for the environment. Instead of emitting Methane gas, which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, it creates greenhouse gasses that can be put to good use. As of now, 12 out of Wegmans 85 stores participate in this program.
The potential of this project is exponential and if more supermarkets and restaurants participated in this project, it could not only decrease food waste, but it could also help with the environment. EnviTec Biogas’ General Manager Steven McGlynn stated, “Whether it catches on has a lot to do with whether society wants to catch on.” This practice is already becoming popular in Europe, and it will hopefully catch on in the US soon.