Pulpers and composters can help you manage your waste headaches. Here's what you need to know.
While quality food and great service should be your main concerns, you can't ignore what goes on behind the scenes. It's not glamorous, but proper waste management is a must. Two common methods to help tackle the challenge are pulpers and composters.
A pulper is basically a two-part disposer system which, rather than dumping the waste slurry into the sewer system like a traditional disposer, operates in a self-contained environment. The waste is first mixed with water, ground up and then separated from the water with a water press. The press extracts water from the waste while allowing water-soluble matter to be flushed down the drain. Many odor-causing materials, such as proteins and milk solids, are largely washed away. The result from the water press is a damp, grayish, pulverized material that can then be removed from the kitchen.
Factors that influence a pulper's effectiveness include the type of waste and the ratio of paper (bad) to food (good) products. Depending on its makeup, the volume of waste leaving your premises could be reduced by as much as 80 percent, which lowers waste hauling costs and landfill material.
Elaborate “engineered” pulper systems can transport the ground slurry mixture from one or more points of generation to a remote waste room. You could have a pulper everywhere waste is generated — in your dishroom, pot wash sink, and maybe at a produce area. The grinding unit would be at the point of use.
Often the material from your pulper can be composted by a vendor that collects it. But with a composter, you can do it yourself.
The compostable waste decomposter, usually called a composter, works like our own digestive systems: It takes in food, churns it with heat and enzymes for a time, removes water and then expels it as waste. A composter accomplishes much the same, but with more heat. Most equipment uses no chemicals, enzymes or other additives.
A composter can be used by itself or in conjunction with a pulper. If used alone, the waste going in should be in small pieces for the most effective process. Composters are perfect for use in conjunction with a pulper to create a truly “green” waste reduction system. Many operations can cut waste weight and volume by 90-95 percent using this dual system.
A composter unit is essentially a large stainless steel box that can sit on your loading dock. It requires an electrical outlet and a drain. It takes compostable waste and in less than 24 hours turns it into what is called a “soil amendment,” similar to products like humus used in home gardens. The end product is usually suitable for use in landscaping but we recommend having a fertilizer company or agronomist test the compost first before using it in a garden.
Neither the composting process nor the final product yields a bad odor. Usually the compost has a “cooking” smell, which most people don't find offensive. Compost product also does not pose a sanitation issue. The heat kills any bacteria.
Waste pulpers and composters are not the type of equipment every chef dreams about, but there are some environmental advantages as well as cost savings that can be attributed to making proper choices in units.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. Bendall can be reached at 301-233-5226.