How a company in Ottawa diverts food waste from landfills

An Ottawa-based company is trying to change the way households across the country dispose of food waste, with innovative technology speeding up the composting process to a few hours.

Food Cycle Science has signed up about 20 municipalities across Canada to pilot their FoodCycler, a small food waste recycling machine that the company claims can reduce the weight and volume of food waste by 90 percent.

CEO Bradley Crepeau says the company is trying to help communities that do not have easy access to some of the more traditional organic programs, such as pickup at the curb, which is available in more densely populated cities.

“We’re working with remote, rural and indigenous communities at the moment, but we’re really aiming to scale it to be a solution, or at least part of the solution, for every municipality and community across Canada,” Crepeau said .

FoodCycler can reduce the weight and volume of food waste by 90 percent without producing methane gas. (Jean Delisle / CBC)

Each FoodCycler unit can easily fit on a kitchen countertop and is equipped with a 2.5-liter bucket for food waste.

Through a process of drying, grinding and cooling, FoodCycler aerates food waste without producing methane gas and converts it into compost within four to eight hours.

“The unfortunate reality is that food waste is very harmful to the environment. It is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions,” Crepeau said.

When food that is thrown in the bin reaches the landfill and begins to decompose, it releases methane – a gas that is estimated to be about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

“The vision is very much to try to change the way people think and deal with food waste,” Crepeau said.

Landfills reach capacity

The Township of South Glengarry, southeast of Ottawa, has just completed a 12-week pilot project with Food Cycle Science, in which 100 residents purchased a FoodCycler for their home at a subsidized price.

Townships chief administrative officer Tim Mills says local officials have been looking for ways to divert food waste from local landfills, one of which already has capacity and two others will be filled within five and 13 years, respectively.

“It’s millions of dollars to expand landfills or to make a new one, or to close one and open a new one,” Mills said. “We have to look at other options, and this is a small piece of the puzzle.”

During the pilot, residents were asked to track their use to determine how much waste was being diverted. Mills said the township is still analyzing all the data received, but overall, residents appeared to be happy with the result.

Alex Hayman, who heads the municipal solution team at Food Cycle Science, calls the completed pilot projects successful.

Bradley Crepeau, left, and Christina Zardo, head of municipal solutions, sniff at the odorless compost created with FoodCycler. (Jean Delisle / CBC)

“Everyone in a small municipality has the same problem, which is a lot of waste and not so much landfill left, and we come to them with a solution,” he said.

Hayman said many smaller communities do not have access to nearby organic facilities to transport compost at the curb, so they either have to transport the material far, or the food waste ends up going directly to landfills.

“If we can start tackling that food waste at the source, we will not only limit methane emissions from food waste, but [also limiting] transportation emissions from having fewer trucks on the road, “Hayman said.

The British Columbia community is expanding the program

Across the country, the city council of Nelson, BC, recently approved a plan that would see every household in the city equipped with a device to pre-treat organic matter at home – following a successful pilot.

Nelson has about 5,500 households and was the first municipality in Canada to participate in the FoodCycler pilot, said Cecilia Jaques, climate and energy consultant for the city of Nelson.

FoodCycler speeds up the composting process to a few hours. (Jean Delisle / CBC)

Jaques said because the community is rural, so bears are a major concern for residents who compost in the more traditional way, and this project limits this problem.

“One of the reasons this model for redirecting organic waste is so attractive to our residents is because the soil improvement that comes out of the pre-treatment process is actually sterile and odorless, so it does not attract pests and wildlife,” Jaques said. .

She said the city will follow municipal procurement guidelines before deciding which pre-treatment unit to offer residents, but the municipality was “incredibly pleased” with the results of the pilot project.

The results showed that about 15,000 tons of food waste were treated over a three-month period from participants in 151 households.

“I think there’s a huge wealth of benefits that make this a great rural program,” Jaques said.

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