Restaurateurs marry fast food with sustainability
LONDON, UK—Restaurateurs Carl Clarke and David Wolanski have been enormously successful with their Chik’n restaurant concept that offers healthier fast food, unique side dishes, and craft beers at reasonable prices, while employing sustainable business practices.
The restaurant uses locally-sourced, free-range chicken and fresh ingredients, pays its employees above the London Living Wage, and uses a biodigester to dispose of food waste in an environmentally-friendly manner.
“Previously, we had to store food waste in bins in the basement, and a rubbish-disposal company carted the waste away,” explains Girish Nagpaul, Chik’n’s office manager. “When the weather was hot, though, the waste would start leaking from the bins and attract fruit flies and other insects. It was not a good situation.”
Chik’n then installed an LFC-70 biodigester manufactured by Power Knot LLC, San Jose, CA. The fully enclosed unit processes between 70-125 kg (150-280 lb) of food waste in 24 hours with no noise or odour, transforming it into drain-safe “grey” water.
During the first 12 months the unit digested 9,775 kg (21,550 lb) of food waste, averaging 814 kg/month (1,795 lb/month), according to Mr. Nagpaul. With the reduction in waste disposal costs, he expects the LFC biodigester to pay for itself in two years.
How food solids are converted into wastewater
The stainless steel unit stands 108 cm (3½ ft) tall and operates quietly around the clock. Food-service workers lift the lid to add food waste to the U-shaped vessel at any time. Inside, an arm rotates slowly to mix food waste with a proprietary mixture of microbes and enzymes (Powerzyme™) embedded in porous plastic chips (Powerchips™) to accelerate decomposition, along with infusions of hot and cold water and oxygen, producing CO2 and grey water, which is piped to an ordinary municipal drain.
According to Power Knot, the biodigester can convert anything edible, including fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, bread, and rice, into wastewater within 24 hours from the time of addition.
“Winston” gains social media notoriety
Nicknamed “Winston” by the Chik’n crew, the biodigester is making its mark. It even has a public following through social media. One Instagram post stated, “Everybody loves ‘Winston’. It turns waste food into nutrient rich grey water that we feed into the Baker Street sewer system, keeping it from blocking up as the nutrients help bio-degrade all the nasty stuff down there.”
The post continues, “Sending food to a landfill is just plain wrong, producing methane which is 72 times worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.” Nagpaul adds, “The food we feed to Winston comes out carbon neutral so we are leaving as little a footprint on the environment as we can. The CO2 generated during decomposition is part of the natural cycle of carbon generation from food waste, making the process carbon neutral.”
Mr. Nagpaul estimates that in the first 12 months the LFC-70 reduced Chik’n’s carbon footprint by 41 tonnes (45.2 tons) of CO2.
Regulations loom for commercial food waste
He also comments, “Regulation of commercial food waste is imminent.” The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and IGD, two registered UK charities, created the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap Initiative (FWRRI). The FWRRI wants half of the UK’s largest food businesses measuring, reporting, and disposing of food waste environmentally by September 2019, and full commercial compliance by 2026. A report to the House of Commons Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Committee (2016-2017) targets a similar goal.
LFC-70’s online presence
The biodigester’s on-board computer, which monitors and reports, helps the restaurant comply with upcoming regulations. A touch screen displays configuration, status, and statistical data for current and historical operation. In addition to volume of waste processed, it can document operational use such as frequency of door openings, water volume, and water temperature. The machine connects to the cloud, so that usage, diagnostics, and service schedules can be monitored remotely from a smartphone, laptop or mobile device (Figure 1).
Figure 1 – Screenshot from CHIK’N’s LFC-70 biodigester reports on daily, weekly, monthly, and annual usage. (Girish Nagpaul)
“With this information at our fingertips,” Mr. Nagpaul adds, “We can show our customers that we’re doing our part for the environment, such as reporting how much the biodigester has reduced our carbon footprint.
“In addition, Power Knot’s UK office, keeps an eye on us online to make sure everything is going smoothly…so Winston’s online presence helps us in several ways.”
Plans for additional restaurants
Mr. Nagpaul says that Chik’n plans to open a second and third restaurant in 2019, and LFC biodigesters for its restaurants are part of the firm’s overall sustainable strategy.
“More people will start using biodigesters in the UK. It reduces rubbish collection costs. It’s good for the environment, and composting of food waste will soon be mandatory.”