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Dunkin’ Donuts Uses Bio-Digesters to Dunk Food Waste

Words by Leon Kaye

Americans love their fast food, and it often shows in the litter strewn along highways and in overflowing trash cans in American cities. Part of the problem lies in packaging, which is a large portion of what the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates to make up as much $11.4 billion in wasted, non-recycled packaging annually. Then there is the food waste itself, of which estimates run anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. annually.

While some fast-food and other restaurant chains are showing some creativity when it comes to dealing with food waste, the reality is that too much food is still going into landfills. Tack on the resulting methane gas emitted into the atmosphere, and the fact that municipalities are running out of landfill space (forget new spaces as no one wants them in their backyard), and those half-eaten burgers, fries and donuts pose quite the problem.

Speaking of donuts, one chain, beloved on the East Coast and often craved for out West, says it is trying a new approach to solve the food waste problem. Dunkin’ Donuts announced this week that it installed a food waste disposal system at a second location in New Jersey.

The coffee and breakfast goodies giant has engaged the services of BioHighTech Global, an American subsidiary of a British clean technology firm. The company builds a bio-digester that appears to be a benign, boxy, stainless-steel contraption with wheels. Is it a trash can? Is it a dishwasher? Well, one could say it is a little bit of both. In go coffee grounds and those half-eaten muffins and donuts. And, thanks to a process called aerobic digestion, the end result is harmless greywater that can be discharged into a municipal sewer system.

Wait, but those grounds can be composted, you say! Fair enough — but few cities have reliable composting systems in place, especially in congested cities, which, if you have spent much time in urban areas, have a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner whether you love them or not. And while some chains such as Starbucks are good about giving out those coffee grounds on a daily basis, there are not always takers. The best possible alternative, therefore, is to haul all that food waste, in some cases as far as 100 miles, to the nearest landfill. So, not only is that waste creating greenhouse gases and taking up depleted landfill space, but one must also consider all the fuel needed to transport that garbage to its final resting spot.

BioHiTech claims its aerobic digesters can process up to 2,500 pounds of food waste a day. Along with these digesters, BioHiTech also markets a cloud-based monitoring system so that users can gauge a system’s food disposal process and find ways to establish even better practices for waste diversion. This technology in part is behind what Dunkin’ claims is the goal to establish 100 “sustainable restaurants” by the end of 2016.

Considering how widespread Dunkin’ Donuts is, however, the company has a long way to go. If this bio-digestion process succeeds in the two locations in which it is installed so far, then the company has another estimated 10,998 shops to retrofit if it will sincerely tackle food waste in the U.S. and overseas.

Image credit: BioHiTech Global

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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