Have you ever gone through the produce section and wondered to yourself “What do they do with the produce that doesn’t get sold or goes bad?” Probably more often than not, it is simply thrown out. While it does seem like a waste of food, at least it’s all biodegradable, right? Fortunately, most supermarkets reduce food waste as much as possible with “Sell By,” “Best By,” and “Expiration” dates.
Food that doesn’t get sold before the “Sell By” date may get sent to another department in the store where it can be turned into part of a ready made meal, as long as it is before the “Best By” date. If food begins to rot, it’s reached “Expiration” and is tossed. One Sainsbury’s supermarket in the United Kingdom took things one step further when it comes to expired food. The store has partnered with Biffa, a waste management company to turn food waste into power. Sainsbury’s takes its food waste from all of their stores in the UK and brings them to Biffa in Staffordshire to be converted into biogas, which is burned to power the Sainsbury’s store in Cannock.
Paul Crewe, Sainsbury’s head of sustainability explained that “Sainsbury’s sends absolutely no waste to landfill . . . ,” and the company is really committed to living up to that in every way. Because of this partnership with Biffa, the Cannock store can fully disconnect from the national electricity grid and power itself fully on the chain’s waste. To take it another step further still, because of their commitment not to send waste to landfills, food that is unsold but still suitable for consumption is donated to charitable organizations. If it’s unsuitable for human consumption, some foods are turned into animal feed for safari parks. Anything beyond that, like rotted food, is sent to Biffa to be processed into biogas through anaerobic digestion.
Anaerobic digestion is a process by which bacteria consume organic matter in a tank devoid of oxygen. The bacteria expels the biogas, primarily methane, which is a greenhouse gas worse than carbon dioxide. However, when methane is burned, the carbon dioxide released is carbon neutral because it is part of the natural carbon cycle. The natural carbon cycle consists of leaves converting CO2 to oxygen, which is inhaled by humans and animals, and exhaled as CO2, or when any living thing dies, plant and animal alike, it decays as carbon emissions to be recycled into oxygen by plants. Thus, Sainsbury’s store is able to provide itself with cheap electricity while not only eliminating waste products, but waste emissions as well.