The White House Climate Change Plan to Reduce Methane Emissions identified landfills as being responsible for 18% of all methane emissions and approximately 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution.  Baldor Specialty Foods, a leading produce distributor in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states based in the Bronx, NY, is on a mission to reduce these numbers by tackling the overwhelming problem of food waste in the United States.
Thomas McQuillan is a Business Analyst at Baldor Specialty Foods, Inc. where he leads the SparCs initiative to eliminate food waste from the company’s production process. Prior to joining Baldor, he was owner and president of IDC Corporation, a company that produced mechanical insulation, safety and abatement supplies. In his new role, he is tasked with developing a strategic initiative to reduce the food waste Baldor produces daily.
Why is organic waste an issue for landfills?
Landfills have always been a cost effective method for getting rid of waste. However in the last decade or so, with the acknowledgement of climate change and the environmental impact of carbon emissions, and with all the creative thinking in the sustainability sector, we realize there are better options for our business – and for the world.
This has driven us to innovate and come up with new ideas and processes for managing food waste. Our vision is to have 100% of food waste diverted from landfills in 2016.
Minimizing food waste requires our company and all those we serve to rethink the whole process of how food is grown, managed, processed, and turned to waste. It requires understanding the valuable parts of food that we throw away and then repurposing them based on the hierarchy of human food, animal food, and then anaerobic digestion for compost.
To give you an example, we did an assessment of our processing of carrots and found out that the most nutrient dense part of the carrot is the skin. That’s great news for reimagining what one can do with carrot peels! By reassessing what we can do with those peelings, we’ve come up with new products like stocks and salads that many customers are interested in. All of this helps get us to a zero waste system.
What was Baldor’s call to action to build a program to address this issue?
Our President, Michael Muzyk, asked me to look at the waste resulting from Baldor’s food production. I first examined waste at Baldor Fresh Cuts, a wholly owned subsidiary of Baldor Specialty Foods. There, we process forty to fifty produce items weekly and these products become available on the market as Fresh Cut products. It became immediately clear that by trimming these produce items into restaurant ready cuts, we were creating thousands of pounds of edible by-product. It’s just like an individual cooking in their kitchen – there are certain things we have traditionally discarded. But these trims have nutritional value – and are viable for all sorts of other uses.
We needed to develop a sustainable method for dealing with this by-product. A 360-solution if you will. It became one of our most important calls to action. Thankfully, our management team recognized the importance of managing this process in a more environmentally friendly and efficient way and has taken a leadership role in the industry.
How does Baldor define “waste”?
We are turning the traditional meaning of food waste on its head. In fact we hate using the term waste at all because what we are talking about is edible by-product that has other uses. This mindset helped set the tone for brainstorming sessions about potential new programs and initiatives to curb waste. As a result, the SparCs program was born. At a meeting with Fresh Direct in the fall, Helen Park came up with the term. SparCs is “scraps” spelled backwards. A new and positive way of referring to product that may have been destined for landfill in the past but now can be further processed into edible, nutritious and delicious food.
Tell us more about the SparCs program.
The program was developed to help us manage excess food products that were created as a result of our production processes such as peelings or tops, etc. In other words whatever SparCs remained we turned into a new product. For example, chefs could purchase our celery and carrot tops and bottoms to use in their homemade stocks.
By creating codes and treating these as new products, we are able to sell these SparCs the same way we would any other of our products.
We have also created new codes to facilitate bulk collection for customers who might be looking for a one thousand pound totes filled with vegetable and fruit peelings to be used as animal feed. We are currently working with two pig farms in New York.
We’re making significant production changes in order to adopt the SparCs program. Like any company, it takes much more than turning a switch and having all production processes updated. We’ve got to continue implementing this program across our organization by working with the production team, educating internal staff, changing the way we handle and dispose of excess food trim, information technology changes and educating potential customers and new markets. Baldor is leading a wave of change in the industry to do things differently - and that requires a lot of effort.
Has Baldor partnered with other companies to address the issue of organic waste in landfills?
We’re in an exploratory phase with a number of chefs and companies to reduce the amount of product being sent to landfills. We’re sharing our journey to inspire others to develop strategies of their own to reduce food waste. We are glad to be a resource to our customers in their attempt to eliminate waste.
There are several great examples I can share with you and the one that comes to mind first is the work we are doing with Flying Pigs Farms based in Shushan, New York. Mike Yezzi tested several different SparCs products with his pigs this past fall. I’m not an authority on animal feed but what I do understand is that most often, pigs are fed barley, corn and soy. They tend not to receive much vegetable supplementation in their diets. Mike has been open to testing various types of vegetables and fruits with the pigs. The tests went very well and now we are shipping 16,000 pounds of vegetable and fruit SparCs a week to the farm which includes honeydew skins, mango pits, romaine lettuce, etc. He believes the pigs have become happier and healthier as a result. Produce is nutritional and something Baldor can provide regularly throughout the year.
We are also working with Misfit Juicery based in Washington, DC. Misfit is a business focused on making juices from the fruits and vegetables that are often misshapen or blemished and often left in the field by the farmer. By using our SparCs products, they are helping us divert perfectly delicious produce from landfill - which has broad appeal to consumers.
Describe your four-tiered approach and why it is important to animals and humans.
We’ve created four category tiers for repurposing our SparCs. First is food for human consumption, second is food for animal consumption, third is anaerobic digestion (capturing methane in a digestion chamber over a period of time), and the fourth is composting.
Anaerobic digestion is a critical piece of the puzzle as there will always be products remaining that are not fit for consumption but can be put to work to create energy. The process is relatively simple: food waste is added to a chamber along with other nitrogen rich products - such as animal effluent - and the decomposing process begins. Once methane is generated - which only takes a few days - the gas is captured and it is transferred to a generator where it is burned to create electricity. The methane gas is generated over twenty-one days. The materials are then removed and added to a compost pile.
How can companies who want to get involved learn more?
The good news is, food waste reduction is gaining momentum in the industry. There are several conferences scheduled in 2016 focused on the science and strategies of reducing waste. One step a concerned company can take is to audit all of the material that is currently going to landfill to identify which products can be recycled, repurposed or eliminated from the equation entirely. It also makes sense to gather a number of stakeholders in the company to get their input on formulating a strategic plan for reducing waste.
If readers would like to learn more about food waste and Baldor’s work, they can go to http://www.baldorfood.com . Together, we can come up with great ideas to stop food waste and reduce carbon emissions.