Machines that turn commercial food waste into smart garbage
Web-connected digesters reduce waste and supply useful feedback “It occurred to me that waste was valuable”
When Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owner Bill Mulholland wanted to reduce costs, he took a closer look at his garbage. About a year ago, he got a deal on a $400-a-month bio-digester—a commercial, dishwasher-size steel box filled with bacteria that converts food waste into sewage—from BioHiTech, a maker of the machines. Mulholland, who’d heard about the digester from a friend, also liked the idea of helping the environment by cutting down on garbage. Besides shaving a bit off his $550 monthly trash-hauling costs, the web-connected machine provides Mulholland with information to help him better run his business. “If we don’t have enough waste running through the machine, I know we don’t have enough product,” he says. “If we have too much, we are overbaking. I really can see from afar if my store managers are doing a good job.”
Extracting information from garbage was just what Frank Celli, the chief executive officer of BioHiTech, was after when he and his team devised a way to make the machines smart. “It occurred to me that waste was valuable,” says Celli, who as a teenager worked in his family’s garbage-hauling business in New York’s Hudson Valley. He could tell a lot about customers from their trash.
BioHiTech started developing the web-connected digesters in 2013, adding an Intel processor, special software, and connectivity, and it began marketing the units in 2014. Since then, the company and a handful of competitors, including San Jose-based Power Knot and Canada’s Totally Green, have persuaded hundreds of businesses across the U.S., from Hilton Hotels to the Cheesecake Factory to the U.S. Army, to buy the units. Business owners and managers can track, via PC or a mobile app, how frequently the digesters are used, how much waste is digested, even which supplier the waste comes from. “It allows us to provide our customers with a level of transparency they can’t receive anywhere else,” Celli says.
The companies sell and lease the machines. BioHiTech’s leasing fees range from $6,000 to $13,000 a year,