The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 133 billion pounds of food from stores, restaurants, and homes is wasted annually. While some of that waste is composted, the vast majority ends up in landfills where it causes significant negative impacts on the environment. In addition, food disposal fees, as well as other factors, can adversely affect the bottom line of food-related businesses. This is where technology can play a big part. IoT-based solutions can remedy a lot of the food disposal issues plaguing the industry by offering a smart infrastructure that benefits every stakeholder, government, and business alike.
Like a lot of IoT-based applications, reducing food waste does not involve a wholesale infrastructure change. Trash cans and dumpsters can be equipped with sensors—and even cameras—to detect motion (when a receptacle is put in place for collection), fullness, exact location, intruders (animals), unauthorized contents (when plastic is dumped into a compost-only bin, for example), and other usage-specific requirements, maybe a container devoted exclusively to fast-rotting fish remains. The resulting data then is collected and analyzed at a central location in order to improve overall efficiency, environmental impact, and cost factors.
In addition to greatly reducing the amount of money governments spend on sanitation, smart containers can benefit restaurants financially. Fees paid for disposal can be customized to a restaurant’s operations, rather than charging a one-size-fits-all monthly rate whether the bins are full or not. If containers do get full unexpectedly (a special event, surprise surge in customers), there can be preset overage charges in place. The restaurant knows the fees in advance, and the trash is removed before it becomes a nuisance or impacts overall operations. And since collection is accomplished in the most efficient manner possible, there never is the risk of trash ending up on the street or deterring potential diners from entering the restaurant due to an unhealthy appearance.
Compost for Profit
When it comes to composting, the containers themselves can double as mini-factories that turn restaurant food waste into high-grade fertilizer. One example, known as The Harvester, consists of a garbage disposal unit attached to a cylindrical tank. Employees enter a department-specific code prior to dumping the food scraps. The machine photographs and weighs the waste, as well as records the date/time of disposal. Once entered, the system turns the waste (even bones) into a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer that can be sold at a profit. Once full, a notification is sent to the collection facility. As an added bonus, the machine does not emit any odor, a common complaint of compost bins.
Tracking it All
The various data collected by these smart garbage units, whether traditional trashcans or all-in-one composters, are invaluable to restaurant operations. Managers now can track how much food is wasted, if employees are throwing away food unnecessarily, or what type of food is being thrown away. Such information can be correlated with menus and customer behavior to further reduce waste. For example, if a certain entrée is never fully consumed by diners, the portion can be reduced to eliminate waste. Similarly, if a short-shelf-life ingredient (fish, fresh-made cream, etc.) only is ordered on certain days, the menu can reflect this (lack of) demand. Restaurants, therefore, can reduce their food waste dramatically before any scraps are tossed, and any unavoidable waste is environmentally processed rather than ending up in a landfill.
The low barriers to entry, tremendous upsides, and ready-to-engage customers make IoT-based commercial food disposal the ideal marketplace for service providers of all sizes.
To learn more about IoT food-related solutions, visit Aeris.