Adam Dean
January 14, 2016
Modern Alchemy: Waste to Water
Modern Alchemy:  Waste to Water

During the Middle Ages, before the concept of chemistry had taken form, there was a pursuit to improve the world through alchemy. One of the primary focuses of alchemy was to transform an undesired substance into something of value. The best example of this was the attempt to turn metals into gold; widely accepted today as a fool’s errand. However, the core fundamental of an alchemist’s effort couldn’t be more relevant in our era. Today, we possess the power to take food waste and turn it into recycled water over a 24-hour period.

Water Conservation is a Growing Talking Point.

When you consider that an estimated 2 gallons of water are used per minute when watering a lawn (according to the U.S. Geological Survey), it starts to put things into perspective. In most cases the water is potable which is becoming increasingly scarce. All for a green lawn and happy plants? Fair enough, flora need water too! A newer conservation approach is to use greywater for plants, grass and crops. Greywater is waste water that does not contain fecal matter; typically it comes from the sinks and drains of your buildings. Now it can come from your food waste too and it’s all thanks to digesters.

How Does a Digester Work?

Digesters vary in shapes and sizes but the process is fundamentally the same:  You put your food waste into the machine. The machine uses a combination of heat, water, air, bacteria/protein/enzymes, and motion, to break down the food waste into carbon dioxide and water. The bacteria/protein/enzymes are used as the catalyst to breakdown and remove the waste proteins. At the conclusion of the process, you are left with odorless greywater which can be safely discarded into the municipal waste water system, or better yet, collected and used to water plants and vegetation.

Before you run out the door to buy one of these beauts, there are some disclaimers worth noting. For example, all digester manufacturers produce a unique model from one another. This means each digester type has a range of waste that can and cannot be discarded in it. If bacteria are used to break down the waste, the ecology of the digester is more sensitive:  no bread or highly acidic foods. Shells, pits, or bones are considered non-digestible. There are some companies that claim you can add them but it’s better practice not to. Then we come to the largest elephant in the room: the price tag. It can be jarring at first glance but it’s worth taking a step back and evaluating the cost long term. Often clients will find that an ROI can be achieved in under 5 years.

Digesters are a Win-Win.

As a food operator, you can dispose of almost all your food waste onsite and within a 24 hour period. That allows for fewer waste hauling pickups and more space for storage on site. They don’t require a huge power grid and they are very quiet. The other benefit is the opportunity to use the greywater for any plants on property. The water is odorless so it won’t cause any upturned noses from your guests. Best of all, it’s less waste to a landfill, which means it’s significantly better for the environment and a new marketing opportunity for your business!

By:  Adam Dean

Senior Associate, Management Advisory Services | Washington, DC

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