An Ottawa-based company is trying to change the way households across the country dispose of food waste with innovative technology that speeds up the composting process to a matter of hours.
Food Cycle Science has signed up about 20 municipalities across Canada to pilot its FoodCycler, a small food waste recycling machine the company claims can reduce the weight and volume of food waste by 90 per cent.
CEO Bradley Crepeau says the company tries to help communities that don't have easy access to some of the more traditional organics programs, such as curbside pick-up available in more densely populated cities.
"We're working with remote, rural and Indigenous communities at this time, but we really aim to scale that to be a solution, or at least part of the solution, for any municipality and community across Canada," Crepeau said.
Each FoodCycler unit can easily fit on a kitchen countertop and comes equipped with a 2.5-litre bucket for food waste.
Through a process of drying, grinding and cooling, the FoodCycler aerates food waste without producing methane gas and turns it into compost within four to eight hours.
"The unfortunate reality is that food waste is very harmful to the environment. It's one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions," Crepeau said.
When food thrown in the trash reaches the landfill and starts decomposing, it releases methane — a gas that is estimated to be about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year span.
"The company vision is very much to try and change the way that people think and deal with food waste," Crepeau said.
Landfills reaching capacity
The Township of South Glengarry, southeast of Ottawa, just finished up a 12-week pilot project with Food Cycle Science where 100 residents purchased a FoodCycler for their home at a subsidized rate.
The township's chief administrative officer Tim Mills says local officials have looked for ways to divert food waste from local landfills, one of which is already at capacity and two others will be full 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 up a new one," Mills said. "We have to look at other options, and this is one small piece of the puzzle."
During the pilot, residents were asked to track their usage to determine how much waste was diverted. Mills said the township is still analyzing all the data received, but overall residents seemed happy with the result.
Alex Hayman, who leads the municipal solutions team at Food Cycle Science, calls the completed pilot projects successful.
"Everybody in a small municipality has the same problem, which is a lot of waste and not so much landfill space left and we're coming to them with a solution,'' he said.
Hayman said many smaller communities don't have access to nearby organics facilities to truck curbside compost so they either have to transport the material a far distance, or food waste ends up going directly to landfills.
"If we can start tackling that food waste at the source, we're not only limiting the methane emissions from food waste, but [also limiting] transportation emissions from having less trucks on the road," Hayman said.
Community in British Columbia expanding program
On the other side of the country, the city council in Nelson, B.C., recently approved a plan that would see each household in the city equipped with a unit to pretreat organics at home — following a successful pilot.
Nelson has about 5,500 households and was the first municipality in Canada to take part in the FoodCycler pilot, said Cecilia Jaques, a climate and energy advisor with the City of Nelson.
Jaques said because the community is rural so bears are a big concern for residents who compost in the more traditional way, and this project limits that problem.
"One of the reasons why this model for diverting organic waste is so attractive to our residents is because the soil amendment that comes out of the pre-treatment process is actually sterile and odourless, so it doesn't attract pest and wildlife," Jaques said.
She said the city will follow municipal guidelines around procurement before deciding which pre-treatment unit to offer residents, but the municipality was "incredibly happy" with the results of the pilot.
"I think there's a huge host of benefits that make this a great program for rural communities," Jaques said.