The Kroger Co. came up with an inventive solution to prevent food that is not fit to be sold or donated from ending up in a landfill. The retailer installed an anaerobic conversion system at its distribution center (DC) in Compton, California. The Southern California 59-acre DC serves Kroger subsidiaries, Food 4 Less and Ralph’s. Called the Kroger Recovery System, it converts food into energy to help power the 65,000 square foot DC. The system is able to process 55,000 tons of organic food waste a year and turn it into energy. Diverting that amount of food waste is equivalent to 150 tons a day, and will reduce truck trips in the area by over 500,000 miles a year.
The Kroger Recovery System converts the carbon in organic material into methane, which is then used as energy. By using anaerobic digestion, which occurs naturally, organic food that is not fit to be sold or donated, and onsite food-processing effluent, is turned into biogas, which is used to help power the DC. The system provides enough biogas to provide 20 percent of the DC’s power. The conversion process is enclosed in an oxygen-free environment, so it doesn’t generate odors. A Boston-based clean technology company called FEED Resource Recovery Inc. designed and operates the system.
Considering the sheer size of Kroger, this could inspire other grocery store chains to install similar systems. Kroger is a large retailer with 343,000 employees in 2,424 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 31 states under two dozen local subsidiaries that include Ralph’s and Food 4 Less. Kroger also operates 786 convenience stores, 328 fine jewelry stores, 1,169 supermarket fuel centers and 37 food processing plants in the U.S.
“We are committed to finding solutions for food waste and clean energy, and we believe this is a meaningful step forward,” said Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s president and CEO. “Investing in this project is a good business decision for Kroger and, most importantly, an extraordinary opportunity to benefit the environment.”
Food waste is a huge problem
Food waste is a problem both globally and domestically. A report released in January by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers found that 30 to 50 percent (1.2 to 2 billion tons) of the four billion metric tons of food produced worldwide every year is wasted. An August 2012 National Resources Defense Council report estimates that 40 percent of the food in the U.S. goes uneaten, which equals over 20 pounds per person per month, or $165 billion a year. The uneaten food in landfills accounts for almost 25 percent of methane emissions in the U.S. Methane is a GHG with a warming potential 23 times greater than carbon. Methane accounted for about nine percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in 2011, according to the EPA.
The majority of the American people want food waste to be reduced, as a recent poll indicates. Conducted in March by Sustainable America, the poll found that 60 percent of the 1,001 surveyed said reducing food waste at restaurants and grocery stores is the best way to increase food availability in the U.S.
Photo: FEED Resource Recovery Inc.