Converted Organics Q & A

Converted Organics transforms food waste into compost through its unique EATAD process. Ed Gildea, the CEO of the Boston-based company, recently explained that technology and the company’s vision in this interview:

1. Enhanced Autogenous Thermophilic Aerobic Digestion (EATAD) sounds complicated—Can you explain it for us non-science folks?

In short, the EATAD process is microbial digestion it is technology very similar to the High Temperature Liquid Compost technology Converted Organics acquired from UnitedEd Gildea (photo courtesy of Converted Organics) Organic Products in January this year. Each process relies on the same principle that allows nature to remove waste in a forest. Microbial digestion utilizes naturally occurring bacteria and oxygen to digest feedstock.

The process takes place in a closed, carefully monitored tank, as a way to greatly accelerate the digestion. What would take months to happen in nature can be quickly converted to a useful all-natural fertilizer product in a matter of days.

2. Why is it important to compost food waste?

According to the U.S. EPA, “Food leftovers are the single-largest component of the waste stream by weight in the United States. Americans throw away more than 25 percent of the food we prepare, about 96 billion pounds of food waste each year” most of which ends up in landfills.

Our business not only diverts food waste from landfills, but it uses the material to its full potential by recycling it and using it for another purpose. Converted Organics operates a closed loop model for waste management. We reuse discarded food scraps to produce an organic product that is then recycled back into the earth.

3. I’m partial to processing food waste via anaerobic digestion. Tell me why you see composting as a better solution?

As stated on the U.S. EPA’s website, “The decomposition of food and other waste under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfills are the largest human-related source of methane in the United States, accounting for 34 percent of all methane emissions. Recover (i.e. food donations) and recycling (i.e., composting) diverts organic materials from landfills and incinerators, thereby reducing GHG emissions from landfills and waste combustion.

Compared to anaerobic digestion, Converted Organics offers a better solution for managing food waste. In order to harness the benefits of anaerobic digestion, one would have to collect and store the methane gas, which is created from the anaerobic process, and then find a way to utilize that gas as a source of energy. Doing this requires more complicated technology and equipment than it does to create and maintain a Converted Organics facility.

4. How many facilities are now being constructed and how many are in the pipeline? What’s the company’s vision for the future (aside from flying cars powered by trash)?

We are completing a facility in Woodbridge, N.J. and retrofitting a facility in Gonzales, Calif. We have announced plans for a third plant in Johnston, R.I., and we have numerous other sites under active consideration.

5. Your site says your equipment is 99.7% effective in eliminating odors. How bad is that 0.3%? And how do you combat the “ick factor” all composters face?

The food waste at our facilities is processed in closed vessels, and we use the most effective technology to clean ambient air and decrease odor. Also, Converted Organics fertilizer is not made from manure or sludge-based products that are typically associated with offensive odor. Our process, which really is an accelerated composting process, removes all odor. Our fertilizer is odorless and will not become odorous after watering or sitting exposed to extreme sun and heat.

6. From what you’ve seen, is the amount of U.S. food waste shrinking, growing or staying about the same?

We think it is growing. More and more of our society is disposable and food is no different. Society is trying to create degradable packages to enable us to throw away more things. On one hand that is good for companies like Converted Organics, on the other, it is a trait that is not good for the environment. As issues associated with Wasted Food become more mainstream, we hope to see some changes.

7. What has surprised you most about food waste in the US?

courtesy of Converted OrganicsIt is surprising that so much food waste, which is an extremely valuable product in itself, is wasted! Food wastes comprise the third largest solid waste category—almost 48 million tons per year—but in general food wastes are not recycled. Less than two percent of food wastes in the US are managed through composting.

8. What amount of food waste will your facilities process on a daily basis and where will that waste come from, primarily (households, restaurants, food processors)?

The majority of the food waste that we process comes from food processors. Our facility in California has the capacity to process approximately 125 tons of food waste a day. Our New Jersey facility is approved to process 500 tons per day, but when fully operational at the end of this year we will process 250 tons of food waste per day. We need to make additional investment to get to 500 tons.

9. Do you compost at your home? Do you use Converted Organics products in your garden or lawn?

Many of the employees at Converted Organics are environmentally conscious and practice composting at home. As soon as our granular product becomes readily available, I’m positive that everyone here at Converted Organics will be using it to fertilize their lawns and gardens.

10. Where can people find your products?

We are in the process of adding an application to our website that will allow customers to enter their city and zip code, which will then display the nearest locations where Converted Organics is sold. We will be available at retail outlets in the spring of 2009.

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