Mimicking natural digestion: Veolia and Harris Farm

Mimicking natural digestion: Veolia and Harris Farm

Pictured: Arif Chowdhury, Veolia National Business Development Manager, Organic Solutions and Charbel Daher, Harris Farm Commercial Manager.

Since installing Veolia’s onsite digester solution, Harris Farm has diverted over 100 tonnes of food waste from landfill and counting.

Each year, over seven million tonnes of food is wasted in Australia, costing the economy an estimated $20 billion.

The drivers of food waste are varied and complex, occurring at every point along the supply and consumption chain.

Households account for roughly one third of Australia’s food waste – throwing away 3.1 million tonnes of edible food each year.

However, the NSW EPA’s 2017 Food Waste Opportunities report suggests the two principal contributors of food waste sent to landfill are the wholesale and retail sectors.

Despite growing mechanisms to reduce food waste, as with all material streams, a level of wastage is largely unavoidable. With that in mind, a growing number of businesses across Australia are seeking innovative and bespoke solutions to minimise the environmental impacts of their waste.

Harris Farm, a grocery chain with 27 locations across NSW, is one such business. While Harris Farm feels more like a farmer’s market than a supermarket, its business model is structured around the notion of corporate responsibility.

This is highlighted in the company’s Sustainability Manifesto, which lists the war on waste as a key objective.

As per the manifesto, Harris Farm is committed to integrating the waste hierarchy into its operations, notably honing in on food and packaging waste.

This is a commitment shared by Veolia Australia and New Zealand, which while operating on the opposite end of the waste chain, is equally driven by corporate responsibility and the drive towards organics recovery.

Veolia is focused on delivering economic, environmental and social benefits, not only for itself and its clients, but the local communities in which it operates.

Realising this shared commitment, the two companies teamed up in 2018, with Veolia facilitating an onsite food waste digester solution for Harris Farm.

Charbel Daher, Harris Farm Commercial Manager and GM Logistics, explains that prior to engaging Veolia, Harris Farm sent all of its waste to landfill.

“We wanted to find a sustainable solution for the environment, and at the same time, find something that was going to be cost effective,” he says.

“We looked at different options and then started talking to Veolia, who came up with the idea of installing onsite food digesters.”

The mobile units essentially mimic a natural digestion process, with aerobic digestion facilitated via natural microbes automatically sprayed into the machine.

Paired with oxygen and naturally occurring heat, the microbes digest food waste down to a liquid. Once the material reaches liquid form, the digester passes it through an in-built filter that discharges it from the unit.

Harris Farm installed its first digester on a trial basis at its Drummoyne store in April 2018.

Once they saw how successfully the digester processed food waste, Daher says Harris Farm began rolling units out across other stores. To date, Harris Farm has nine digester operating across NSW.

According to Daher, the digesters are both environmentally and economically sustainable. They reduce waste to landfill, while simultaneously costing Harris Farm next to nothing to operate outside rental fees.

“From a financial perspective dumping waste into landfill is getting more and more expensive, and putting it into the digester is significantly cheaper,” Daher says.

He adds that in a recent assessment of the numbers, Harris Farm found it had diverted over 100 tonnes of organic waste out of landfill and into the digesters.

“A lot of our stores used to have five or six bins on the loading docks, and since installing the digesters that’s been cut in half,” Daher says.

“Plus, because we’re not dumping organic waste into the bins anymore, it’s a much cleaner and hygienic environment for the people working at the stores.”

The digesters are easy to use Daher explains, with Veolia facilitating training sessions with staff each time Harris Farm installs a new digester.

“It’s very straight forward. It’s just about segregating the waste, knowing what can and can’t go into it and letting it run. You can also go on feeding it throughout the day,” he says.

Continuous feeding is a key advantage of the food digesters, with the metabolisation and digestion rate accelerated by ongoing input.

A single machine can process up to 900 kilograms of food waste a day, cutting the harmful emissions associated with transport while reducing waste removal costs.

While the digesters provide a localised solution, they complement Veolia’s larger-scale innovations in the organics processing space.

Through its facilities Earthpower in Sydney and Dandenong NRS in Melbourne, the waste management giant is a leading processor of food waste organics in metropolitan markets.

Furthermore, Veolia is working with a number of clients in sectors across food and beverage, healthcare, ports, retail, grocery and education, to help reduce and or eliminate organic waste to landfill.

With aerobic digestion, Veolia is stepping away from the linear production and consumption approach and moving towards the circular economy, an economy in which the waste discarded by some systematically becomes valuable resources for others.

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