Bruised and wilted produce doesn’t draw crowds, and retailers know it. The USDA estimates that American supermarkets dump $15 billion every year in fruits and vegetables alone—largely because they just don’t look good. But across the pond, a grocery store in the United Kingdom has given up the wasteful practice by turning unsold food into electricity. Basically, all the store has to do is let it rot.
The Cannock, Staffordshire, location of superstore chain Sainsbury’s has been working with waste-management and recycling plant Biffa for two years to launch the project.
Here’s how it works, according to Popular Science. Because a single store doesn’t produce enough scraps to power itself, a number of Sainsbury’s locations will send their food waste to Biffa’s Cannock facility, where the food goes into oxygen-free silos. Bacteria that thrive in the absence of oxygen will break down the scraps in a process called anaerobic digestion. Biffa will then use the resulting biomethane, a natural gas also found underground, to make electricity. A mile-long cable was installed recently to link the facility to the nearby Sainsbury’s store, which now receives electricity directly from Biffa.
“Sainsbury’s sends absolutely no waste to landfills, and we’re always looking for new ways to reuse and recycle,” Paul Crewe, head of sustainability at the chain, told the BBC. “We’re delighted to be the first business ever to make use of this link-up technology, allowing our Cannock store to be powered entirely by our food waste.”
In the United States, supermarket chain Kroger reportedly gets 20 percent of the electricity it uses in its Compton, Calif., distribution center using the same process. Two food retailers in Washington state have invested in industrial-size machines that convert scraps into fertilizers. Shoppers can help solve food waste too: When buying produce, don’t let limp and shriveled fruits and vegetables fool you. Most of the time they’re perfectly fine to eat.