In a plot twist no one saw coming, the UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has created a sustainability plan that allows the company to use its own food waste as the energy needed to run the store. One Sainsbury store in Cannock, England now runs entirely on electricity that has been generated from recycled refuse, which marks the first time a major retailer doesn’t have to rely on the National Grid for power. “Sainsbury’s sends absolutely no waste to landfill and we are always looking for new ways to reuse and recycle,” claims Paul Crewe, the head of sustainability at Sainsbury’s.
But how exactly does it work? Any food that cannot be donated to charities or used as animal feed is then sent to an anaerobic digestion plant (AD for short) that is currently operated by Biffa, a waste management company. Here, the rotting food is converted into bio-methane gas which is then sent via a cable less than a mile long that connects the plant to Sainsbury’s–effectively closing the recycling loop completely. This AD plant generates enough energy to power the equivalent of 2,500 homes for an entire year. According to Richard Swannell of Wrap (a government-funded organization that promotes environment, recycling and sustainable business ideas), “There are now 60 AD plants recycling food waste, which can process up to 2.5 million tons of food waste per year and generate enough renewable electricity to power a city three times the size of Cannock.” The UN estimates that currently one-third of all food produced is wasted, but now, maybe the food won’t end up in the landfill but actually powering our homes and businesses instead.