Turning food waste into value, onsite

waste equipment The Waste Transformers equipment used in ports. Image: Coen Bakker/ The Waste Transformers

Fosca Poltronieri, Operations Manager of Amsterdam-based company, The Waste Transformers, explains how smart onsite solutions can help ports

With the pressure to go green, ports worldwide urgently need smart solutions. Although waste management is a priority in itself, its impact is interlinked. Smart waste-to-value
solutions can equate to improvements in air quality, green energy production, noise reduction, improved community relationships and water savings, while supporting the push for a happier planet.

The challenges are many, from contaminated waste that cannot be accepted for recycling, to legislative barriers blocking the road to innovation, or a lack of facilities or established contractual margins with waste treatment providers.

Onboard cruise liners worldwide, crew follow MARPOL standards which require strict separation of waste. But it is challenging for anyone to follow separation schemes, and waste treatment companies collecting in ports are sometimes faced with contamination. The diversity of materials (plastics, tetrapaks, etc.) and the knowledge that waste cannot always be recycled leads to understandable frustration. How can one be motivated to separate if the end result doesn’t always merit the effort?

Different legislation requirements

The issue becomes even more of a challenge when each port of call has a different legislation. Even when cruising between two ports of the same country, a standard procedure for waste collection and treatment is rare. One port may take food waste only or nothing at all, another hazardous waste, while another will only allow a certain amount of waste.

Out of all the waste streams, food waste is generally the biggest issue. Produced in large quantities, waterlogged and odour-emitting, it can also be one of the most expensive waste types to treat. Cruise lines worldwide are doing what they can to reduce, but how much can we expect them to reduce waste when consumers, cross-culturally desire abundance? Eating from a bread basket that is full and diverse will usually provide a better experience than a single roll on a bare plate.

The Waste Transformers, a Dutch company based in Amsterdam, provides solutions to these challenges. It provides onsite containerised anaerobic digesters, which transform organic (food) waste streams into energy, heat and a high-quality natural fertiliser. With a range of projects around the world on land, the company is now gaining momentum in ports as well.

“A Waste Transformer, modular and scalable, is a smart technology, with a healthy business case,” says Lara van Druten, the founder and CEO, who leads the company with a mission to transform end-of-pipeline food waste into value on-site, in ports, for ports and their surroundings. Ms Van Druten says the solution her company has developed has the potential to meet the needs of stakeholders across the value chain: “It is a low risk, high impact on-site organic waste solution. It ticks all the right boxes and everyone wins."

Legislative challenges

The first port project in Europe is being explored with the Port of Rotterdam, with a focus on the legislative challenges that regulate animal by-products in food waste and international catering waste. With the help of Senior Policy Advisor Ron Van Gelder, The Waste Transformers are working closely with local Dutch authorities to transform food waste into value on-site, from cruise ships calling in port, while remaining within the legal boundaries established by the EU. It’s a significant step towards a greener future. Ships calling in port can deliver their waste to a Waste Transformer, directly in port and this waste will be diverted from incineration and converted into real green energy, onsite.

A Waste Transformer eliminates the need for polluting diesel waste trucks transporting waste over long distances, while recovering nutrients and generating revenue. For ports outside the EU that are not bound by International Catering Waste (ICW) laws, the nutritional value from the food waste can also be extracted and provided in the form of high-quality, nutrient-rich fertiliser and soil-enhancing compost.

The first port showcase for the Americas is being planned with the support of the Inter American Committee on Ports of the Organization of American States, with the Port of Barbados as the first potential showcase. This will be an important first step towards creating a more circular Caribbean cruise experience, relieving the ships and empowering ports.

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