Finding Energy in Our Groceries

When you think of businesses that can make an impact environmentally you probably don’t think of a grocery store. Oil and gas companies, big box retailers, even paper mills and lumber yards probably pop into your mind. According to the grocery stores, they discard more than 2.7 million tons of food waste per year. The majority of that waste ends up in landfills where it decomposes and puts methane gas into the air, which we all know is not a good thing. In fact, food waste makes up about 25 percent of methane emissions. One supermarket chain in the UK has figured out a way to take all that waste and turn it into energy.

Sainsbury’s, one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK, has started doing something that isn’t only financially beneficial to the chain, but beneficial to the environment. The grocery giant wants to start using their food waste to power some of their stores. Financially, it makes sense; every ton of food waste they send to the landfill costs them £150 ($254.00) per ton. Using the food to create energy is actually cheaper in the long run, and it’s better for the environment.

Putting Rotten Food to Good Use

Sainsbury’s sends zero waste to landfills. They have recently partnered with Biffa, a UK waste management company, to put the majority of their food waste to good use. Instead of letting the food waste rot in landfills and send methane into the atmosphere, Biffa turns the discarded food into biogas. Biogas, a renewable fuel, is composed largely of methane. The food waste collected from Sainsbury’s provides enough energy to power 25,000 homes per year. The rest of the food that Sainsbury’s doesn’t sell goes either to local food banks, where it provides meals for the underprivileged, or farms, where it is used as animal feed.

Sainsbury’s has a history of making environmentally sound decisions. There are currently solar panels placed on the roofs of their supermarkets, which make the stores more energy efficient and help them lower their emissions. The chain has been the largest solar power generator in Europe since 2012 and has cut their energy consumption by 9 percent over the last four years, despite consistent expansion.

Silver Lining

By taking this step Sainsbury’s, is showing the world the potential of finding alternative sources of energy. The great thing about using waste to create energy is that we will always have waste. Instead of trying to find ways to limit our waste, we can learn from Sainsbury’s and Biffa and try and find ways to reuse our waste. We can try to limit it all we want, but the truth is, there will always be trash. It is unavoidable, but the silver lining to that is we may have a cleaner resource on our hands that will never run out.

Do you think US grocery stores and restaurants could benefit from doing something similar?