Stop & Shop is following in Wegmans footsteps on the quest to turn food waste into electricity. On April 17, 2015, the company announced that it broke ground on the company’s first anaerobic digester.  Much like Wegmans, the company hopes to divert 90% of its waste (i.e. food scraps, inedible foods, etc.) that is currently going to landfills. Unlike Wegmans, who donates its waste to a local farm, Stop & Shop’s anaerobic digester will be built at its distribution center in Freetown, MA.

The technical definition of anaerobic digestion via the California Energy Commission is: “it is a biological process that produces a gas principally composed of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) otherwise known as biogas.” Biogas is naturally produced in wetlands and lake bottoms, but can also be harnessed through man-made processes. According to Guardian, biogas is already used for heat, light, and cooking gas in millions of households across China and other countries. Cow Power Inc. notes that biogas also has many benefits for the environment including: reducing greenhouse gas emissions (which are bad for the environment), reduced contamination of groundwater, the biogas process destroys harmful pathogens such as E. coli, and a biodigester can create fuel out of manure.

In layman’s terms, the process is pretty simple. Basically, once the food is transferred to the anaerobic digester, it will go through a series of processes where the carbon from the organic material is converted into a biogas and then used as a power source.  Jihad Rizkallah, the VP of Responsible Retailing for Ahold USA, explained, “Once operational, the anaerobic digester will create approximately 1.25 megawatts of clean, based load electricity, which would offset up to 40% of the Freetown facility’s energy use. This is just one of the ways we strive to be a better neighbor, and a responsible retailer in the communities we serve.”

One of the key aspects to this project is that Stop & Shop is not only going to put its food waste to good use by turning it into electricity, but it is also very active in the community. Only scraps that would normally be thrown away or food that is inedible will be put through the digester. The rest will be, and already is, donated to local food banks. The company has a long, impressive history of donating to charity. Through its Meat The Needs Program, it freezes and donates protein rich meat that is pulled from sale before it expires. Since the origin of the program it has donated 716,624 pounds of meat. In 2014 alone, the company donated more than $30 million to regional food bank partners.

The digester is expected to be fully operational by early 2016. As stated in the Wegmans insight, if more supermarket companies begin to donate their scraps and implement a process like anaerobic digestion, they would be on the forefront of improving climate control. The opportunity here is exponential and it has already been seen at eleven Wegmans stores. Wegmans first, Stop & Shop second, who will be third?