By Lisa Watson
Originally published April 19, 2010 at 4:56 p.m. for the St. Louis Globe Democrat.
Butler’s Pantry has found a new way to reduce its food waste.
The catering service that runs the Palladium Saint Louis on Park Avenue, as well as Bixby’s at the Missouri History Museum, Butler’s Pantry has long been looking for new ways to operate sustainably, said President Richard Nix.
“It used to be you just bought a bigger trash can,” he said.
Three weeks ago, the catering service partnered with Green Smart Food Services to purchase an Orca Green, Nix said. The first of its kind in the Midwest, the Orca Green is a composting machine that takes in organic food waste and produces only water.
“This was an opportunity to be a pioneer with something no one else in St. Louis has,” Nix said. “It has a real impact on what we throw away.”
Here’s how the machine works: The food is added, and every hour a little water is sprinkled on it. The machine churns the food, which is processed by living micro-organisms. Within 24 hours, the food is turned into nutrient-rich water that can be used for landscaping, gardening or go directly into the sewer system.
Butler’s Pantry plans currently directs the water into the sewer system, but the chef plans to test using it in his garden later this spring, Nix said.
The water is not pure enough for drinking, but could theoretically be purified to that level, said Jack Croghan, partner at Green Smart Food Services.
The micro-organisms are completely safe, Croghan said. He compared them to micro-organisms that naturally live inside the human digestive system.
“They’re around us every day,” he said.
The machine also contains biochips, Croghan said. If no food waste is put into the machine for a couple of days, he said, the micro-organisms will attach to the biochips as they wait for more food. The biochips, which are patented, look like small brown food pellets.
“It’s good for the environment and helps businesses,” Croghan said.
The machine reduces the amount of leftover food that is taken to a landfill, which is good for the environment and can reduce costs for food service businesses, Croghan said.
At $23,000 for the least expensive model, which processes 200 pounds of food per day, the Orca Green is not meant for residential use. But with the amount of waste that no longer needs to be taken to the landfill, businesses eventually earn savings on their waste bills, Croghan said.
Butler’s Pantry is currently processing 225 pounds of food per day, and Nix said they are ramping up its operation as they find new uses, Nix said.
Right now the machine is mostly used for food in house, Nix said, but the company recently catered an event at Washington University and brought the waste back to headquarters to go into the Orca Green.
“We think it’s a real plus for our clients,” he said, because they wouldn’t have to worry about disposing food waste from large events.