Trash talk: Food waste equipment debate

To anybody outside of the catering and hospitality sector, getting rid of food waste probably doesn’t seem a big deal. Just stick the big stuff in a bin and pour the non-fatty liquid waste down the sink, right?

As everyone in the industry knows, it’s not quite that simple. In fact, some would go as far as to say that dealing with food waste is actually becoming one of the most complex aspects of kitchen management. A lack of understanding around the different solutions available and regulatory discrepancies between authorities is only complicating matters.

At the moment, all eyes are on developments north of the border where Scottish Government regulations requiring kerbside collections for catering establishments (where available) are due to come into force in January next year.

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Any organisation, except those in rural areas, which are generating more than 50kg of food waste a week, must have their food waste collected and recovered for renewable energy purposes. That threshold drops to 5kg from 2016.

Sources speculate that similar arrangements are being planned for England from in 2017. Already some local authorities are understood to be carrying out doorstep collections as food waste increasingly becomes seen as an important energy source within local government renewable energy policies.

All this is creating a huge opportunity for suppliers of food waste management equipment, although experts in the field insists confusion reigns among end-users — and parts of the sales channel — over the range of options available.

This is perhaps best illustrated by the debate that has surrounded the Zero Waste Scotland regulations and the use of food waste disposers. According to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency: “Food waste disposers (i.e. macerators) cannot be used to discharge food waste to a drain or sewer in a non-rural area where a separate food waste collection service is available.”

However, it notes that systems which dewater food waste at source and store the solid material for collection and treatment are acceptable if they are configured to maximise the capture of organic material for recycling.

William Clark, director of Aluline Group, a waste and environmental solutions specialist, says that any distributors uncertain of what type of equipment to specify can consult several useful sources. “As the area of food waste equipment is subject to varied interpretations of what is compliant, we advise customers to take advice from their consultant foodservice people,” he said. “They can also check out that the supplier of the equipment is approved by the water company and the local environmental health officer.”

Meiko UK has specialised in food waste management products for several years, viewing it as an area that dovetails nicely with its core warewashing business. It offers macerators, dewatering systems, vacuum waste solutions and GTS-System pumped waste units.

“Pump waste and compact vacuum waste are growing the fastest at the moment,” reveals UK MD Bill Downie. “Both use absolute minimal fresh water and the GTS-System doesn’t require a drain system because everything goes into the bins or the tank, which is quite important from a waste water point of view, especially when you are talking about the Zero Waste Scotland initiative.”

Indeed, Downie says that both Monklands Hospital and Wishaw General Hospital in Lanarkshire have already removed macerators and replaced them with the Meiko GTS-System ahead of the new regulations coming into force.

Mechline Developments regards itself as a pioneer in the field of site-based food waste disposal solutions, branding its flagship Waste20 food waste digester as a “highly practical landfill avoidance option” for customers.

Commercial director, Peter Galliford, says the solution also directly addresses the key customer issue of increasing transport and disposal costs. “Waste20 can digest up to 180kg of food waste over a 24-hour period,” he says. “The only output is waste water. The water is a result of the complete, efficient digestion of all the food — and with almost 70% of the total weight in food waste due to water, it all goes to drain and avoids adding to a site’s waste pick-up costs. Plus, the safe disposal of all the waste water to drain allows the local water treatment plants to reclaim the water inherent to food waste and return it to the environment.”

Galliford insists the technology is specifically designed to avoid the issues created by other site-based options such as waste disposal units and macerators, where he says serious blockages in the drain system can occur, and which also use significant amounts of water to force the food waste down the drain.

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Over at Dawson, meanwhile, food waste has become a key area of interest for the company after it added waste management solutions from fellow Ali Group brand Rendisk to its portfolio.

Its flagship Flex WasteDispo System is capable of dealing with 700kg of product per hour and the concept involves grinding the food waste at a kitchen level and transporting it by means of a vacuum system to a central, compact storage location. It is then dewatered and reduced in volume by 80% ready for environmental disposal.

“Caterers are now in a position where they simply cannot ignore their food waste management policies and operations any longer,” says Dawson’s marketing manager Glen Crossland. “Legislation will be the ultimate driver to turn heads in the market, but environmental pressures and the actual cost of traditional methods of handling food waste are big issues that cannot be ignored any longer. While the cost of waste handling and removal increases, facilities and catering managers must seek a more ergonomic, cost effective and sustainable solution.”

Generally speaking, the volume of waste that a food outlet produces will play a major part in determining the most suitable system, but Mechline’s Galliford notes that knowledge of different operating and equipment system options is also a key requirement for distributors imparting specialist advice. Therefore, he says, a distributor must weigh its recommendations against what is allowed in the region.

“Volume and type of waste are clearly key considerations when reviewing customer options but are still subject to other influences, such as what method of waste disposal is available in the region. The answer would also be a lot easier if there was a uniform distribution of food processing facilities across the UK, but unfortunately this is not the case.”

Meiko is working hard to give distributor partners a compelling offering in the food waste arena, especially where its pump waste systems are concerned.

“From an installation point of view it really is a very straightforward product. You have inlets in various places in the kitchen and either a bin enclosure taking three 240-litre wheelie bins or a tank system which is emptied by vacuum tanker,” explains Downie.

“What we are trying to do with the bin enclosure system is to involve our distributors and give them what we call a ‘plug and play’ system, where the bin enclosure comes as a complete unit on a pallet, the inlet comes as a complete unit on a pallet, and all the pipe work in between is down to the distributor.”

It is clear from talking with the top suppliers that the food waste equipment market is battling numerous misconceptions. Clearly it is in every manufacturer’s commercial interests to champion their own solutions at the expense of alternatives, but it isn’t necessarily making operators any wiser.

“One statement that we hear frequently from end-users is that waste management doesn’t cost us anything because all our food waste is macerated to drain,” says Dawson’s Crossland. “When given the actual facts and costs of this method of food waste handling, this ‘myth’ is quickly quashed. Maceration to drain is most certainly not a free method of food waste disposal, but an extremely unhygienic, socially irresponsible and expensive method that is soon to be outlawed across the UK.”

But, as if to illustrate the level of debate that exists in the market right now, Kenny Smith, sales director at Middleby Group company IMC, says: “People believe that food waste disposers are being banned as they block drains, which is not true.

The fact is that the reason food waste has to be separated from other waste is so that it can be realised as an asset to product compost, either on or off site, or energy from an anaerobic digestion site.”

IMC’S portfolio spans food waste disposers, dewaterers and composters, adds Smith. “Used correctly, food waste disposers and dewaterers use a fraction of water and energy that operators believe they do. There is also a belief that the units are costly to run when in fact our composters run on about 8p of electricity a day. Chefs have told us the solutions are time-consuming when it takes no more time than empting a bin.”

Mechline’s Galliford believes the main misconception is that one single solution, such as anaerobic digestion, maceration or composting, is right for every scenario. “It is important that, in all cases, every option available to the site for its sustainable food waste solution takes into account all the choices: on or off-site solutions or a combination of solutions.

Distributors also need to take on board a raft of influences and options when deciding what is right for the customer and the site’s regional requirements.”

Ultimately, suggests Aluline’s Clark, operators will come to realise that the most effective method for managing food waste is balancing the right equipment with tighter process controls.

“The best way to recycle food is to eat it,” he says. “Future menus will cut out greens and foodstuffs that are not popular with diners. The answer is proper portions of food that appeal to diners and less ingredients to bulk menus.”

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Waste not, want not

CESA’s guide to the main categories of waste disposal management equipment available in the market today:

Food waste disposers (FWDs)

Waste is put into a hopper and fed into a chamber to be ground down into small particles, which are then flushed in suspension into the drainage system. FWDs are fitted with magnets and baffles to stop cutlery and plastics entering the grinding chamber.

Dewaterers

Water is squeezed out of the waste once it is ground down. The water content goes to the drain and the ground waste can be stored for collection. This method typically reduces waste by 70% of its volume and 20% of its weight.

In-Vessel Composters (IVC)

Dewatered food waste is turned into high energy compost that can be used on site. Some consider this to be the greenest solution as it eliminates all waste transport. Food waste is loaded, together with a bulking agent, at the front end of the IVC and compost is discharged at the other end several weeks later.

Food waste digesters

In-kitchen systems that use a formulation of micro-organisms to convert food waste into a non-toxic liquid that is safe for drains and sewage systems. The machines are self-contained and eliminate the need for extra waste storage.

Closed vacuum systems

Waste food is transferred direct from the kitchen to a holding tank or to a dewatering process, using a vacuum generated by a vacuum pump or by compressed air. From there it can be collected and transported for disposal to anaerobic digestion, biogas production plants or composting facilities.

Pumped waste systems

Food waste, mixed with a small quantity of water, is transferred from individual kitchen inlets to a holding tank via a single transfer pipe and processor pump. From the holding tank it can be processed as with a vacuum system.

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