U.K. supermarket runs on food waste

Jul 30, 2014

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.

[Image: Positive Waste]

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 20×20 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 it going to take for U.S. grocers to make a bigger commitment to reducing or eliminating food waste? Will greater knowledge about composting lead to greater consumer demand around managing food waste over the next few years?

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8 Comments on "U.K. supermarket runs on food waste"

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Frank Riso

If its takes an act of Congress, we have many years to wait. They seem to be working for their party these days and not for the Americans who elected them. But that is what it will take. We would have so much more waste, as we are a larger nation and are very particular about how our food is presented in a store, creating more waste. Just think of all the produce that is trimmed before it goes on display!

Dan Raftery

Sainsbury’s went an extra mile (kilometer?) with the special power line from the AD plant to the store. They certainly didn’t need to do this, as wheeling is a grid technology that has been around for decades. But by showing clearly what can be done with calories (energy) that would otherwise add to landfill costs, they are demonstrating to the food retailers in developed nations around the globe that it is time to recapture energy and stop burying it in the ground. Hurray for the Sainsbury family!

Mel Kleiman

This one line in the article says it all: “Sainsbury’s claims that the initiative makes both environmental and financial sense, as sending food waste to landfill can be costly.”

Steve Montgomery

Consumers have a growing awareness of the environmental impact of everything they do. However, while I believe it might impact where customers shop it will not be a key decision maker. Product selections, freshness, price, etc., will still drive where people buy their groceries.

What will drive this for retailers is the cost savings. As the article pointed out, Sainsbury’s is saving money by not sending the waste food to landfills.

gordon arnold

America’s search is for cheap energy. Any other factor is a distant second consideration. Solar and wind energy are taking off simply because the processes are effortless and easy to maintain. Recycling is of little value to America as we see demonstrated every day by the mountains of recyclable trash on our roadsides. A better course for manufactures of packaging materials would be to produce non-toxic biodegradable products that benefit the landscape and landfills. But that’s not going to even be discussed any time soon.

Lee Kent

We may be on the slow boat, however, the good ole US of A does eventually come around. Will it be consumer demand that turns the ship? Nope!

If food retailers can see a savings, they will go there full speed ahead. And the rest will follow.

And that’s my 2 cents!

Cathy Hotka

Mel’s right—the incentive would be money. The good news is that the technology just keeps getting better; there was a story on CBS Morning News today highlighting a company that has figured out how to capture carbon emissions normally lost to the atmosphere, and made into plastic chairs and cellphone covers.

Let’s keep at it. We can do better.

Rod Averbuch
Rod Averbuch
3 years 1 month ago

Food waste processing to generate electric power should be our last resort considering the very low return on energy, material, and water that were invested in the food.
There is no single cure, or silver bullet for food waste reduction therefore, we should address the food waste problem in every link in our food supply chain. For example, the excess inventory of fresh perishables close to their expiration on supermarket shelves, combined with the consumer “Last In First Out” shopping behavior, might be the weakest link of the fresh food supply chain.

The new open GS1 DataBar standard enables applications that encourage efficient consumer shopping by offering automatic and dynamic purchasing incentives for fresh perishables approaching their expiration dates before they end up in a landfill.
The “End Grocery Waste” App, which is based on the open GS1 DataBar standard, encourages efficient consumer shopping behavior that maximizes grocery retailer revenue, makes fresh food affordable for all families and effectively reduces the global carbon footprint.


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