Whole Foods is experimenting with transforming food waste generated at stores into organic fertilizer by using a piece of equipment called the WISErg Harvester.
The Harvester is a piece of equipment with a footprint about the size of a typical pallet that promises to change the way retailers dispose of food waste. The Harvester unit ingests food scraps from overripe produce and unsold prepared foods and converts them into a liquid that can be made into an organic fertilizer.
The unit also performs the neat trick of gathering data about the food waste to help retailers better manage perishable inventory. Cameras and sensors capture information about who is throwing away what to generate data that can be mined to optimize store operations. If Harvester units are installed at multiple locations it gives retailers the opportunity to compare the performance of individual stores and leverage best practices to minimize waste.
The unit has been in operation at several independent retailers in the Seattle area but the Whole Foods installation at the retailer’s store in Bellevue, WA., is the first at a retailer with a national presence, according to the company founded by former Microsoft employees Larry LeSueur and Jose Lugo. The pair brought the Harvest product to market in 2012.
The potential for growth in the retail industry is considerable as major retailers look for ways to simplify the disposal of food waste and do so in a sustainable fashion that doesn’t compound a serious issue of food waste in landfills. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) estimates that 80 billion pounds of food waste is sent to landfills each year, but notes that the vast majority is generated at the household level.