A Sainsbury's in the United Kingdom has become the first supermarket to be powered directly from its own food waste.
The project was done in partnership with Biffa, the largest waste recycling company in the U.K.
Under the formula, food waste is first collected by charity partners who come to the store to get it. If the waste is not suitable for any of charitable use or for use as animal feed, it is taken to Biffa's anaerobic digestion plants in Cannock. Big silos break down the food into bio methane gas, which is then used to generate electricity that is directly supplied to the supermarket via a newly constructed 1.5 km-long electricity cable. If too much electricity is produced, it goes back into the National Grid.
Sainsbury's claims that the initiative makes both environmental and financial sense, as sending food waste to landfill can be costly.
The move also builds on Sainsbury's sustainability initiatives. In 2011, it launched its ambitious 20x20 Sustainability Plan, listing 20 corporate responsibility targets to reach by 2020. By November 2013, it achieved its zero waste to landfill commitment; it already ranks as UK's largest retail user of anaerobic digestion, generating enough electricity to power 2,500 homes each year.
The project comes up as food waste remains a hot-button sustainability issue with composting becoming more pervasive at restaurants and at homes. The city of Seattle is considering fining residents who put food waste in the garbage instead of their compost bin. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 141 trillion calories food are wasted every year in just the U.S.
Speaking to BBC, Richard Swannell, a director at the Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP), the government funded body set up to promote recycling and sustainable business practice, believes there is already capacity for many more projects like Cannock.
"There are now 60 AD plants recycling food waste, which can process up to 2.5 million tons of food waste per year and generate enough renewable electricity to power a city three times the size of Cannock," he told the BBC.
What's the likelihood that many consumers will choose their food retailers at least partly due to their food waste reputation over the next decade?