Food Waste: Closing the loop with compost

Food, as we all know by now, can make up about 30% of the total waste stream, both internationally and in South Africa. Smart Waste services all the major supermarket chains as well as hospitality operations and wine estates. All of these operations produce large amounts of food waste.

Food waste, or organic waste to be precise, is anything which was once alive and is now dead. It comes in all forms and arrives at different stages of the waste stream. Fruit falls from the trees during cultivation, something which the farmer deals with. When food enters the food chain someone else must take care of the waste.

In a supermarket environment food can be processed or unprocessed, fresh or dry. If fresh fruit and vegetables pass their saleable date they can, firstly, be used for feeding schemes, human or animal. When no longer fit for human or animal consumption there needs to be another solution.   

A similar wastage occurs with dry groceries when a bag of sugar is split or a bag of pasta is crushed and the supplier won’t take it back. Then it becomes our problem. There are various protocols to be followed to satisfy the stores’ stock and security checks before the food arrives at receiving and Smart Waste takes over.

If there is space inside we will use a system of small drums with lids to remove the food waste from the various departments. These include fruit and veg offcuts, bakery dough, butchery trimmings, fish carcasses and expired milk and juice. This is the easy waste to deal with, it is de-packaged – preferably on site – and joins the food waste stream.

From the “yuck stuff” to the earth through recycling food waste

There is other food waste, which we call the “yuck stuff”, when all the above are mixed in a soup. It may be yuck to humans but it is nutrient for microbes. The food waste is then processed using composting as the basic solution. 

We use composting as part of our African philosophy. We would rather use a simple, robust solution using manpower and creating jobs than using imported and expensive overseas technology. It is cheaper and works better.

So far this is no different to many other composters. Where Smart Waste is better is in closing the loop and reducing the carbon footprint. We close the loop by giving the food back to the generators in the form of compost. If there is no need to take it off site to compost the carbon footprint is also reduced, another benefit.

There are several ways of processing the food waste on site, it depends on the volumes of food waste as well as the facilities available, including security. Whichever solution is appropriate we now produce compost, either bagged in 30 litre bags (compostable) or in larger quantities.

Organic compost from food waste is the healthier solution

The compost is clean, free of plastic and other contaminants and is certified as organic. The compost is then sold or donated to the waste generator, community gardens, feeding schemes and CSR projects – more on that next time.

Apart from closing the loop in terms of the circular economy and reducing the carbon footprint Smart Waste is helping to develop the growing food waste sector. As a founder member of Orasa (The Organics Recycling Association of SA) we take the upcoming food waste ban from landfill – already in force in the Cape – seriously.

Dealing with food waste is not complicated but it can have serious reputational, security and health results if not managed correctly. Supermarkets, in particular, need to be satisfied that their food waste is responsibly and safely dealt with.

Smart Waste has refined its processes to the point that we can claim that we can close the loop on food waste.

If you need some advice you can always call Smart Waste, we have helped others along the way.

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