Almost two years ago, Massachusetts passed a commercial food-waste ban, prohibiting businesses and institutions that dispose a ton or more of waste per week from dumping it into landfills or incinerating it.  Since then, area grocery store chains have gotten more creative in efforts to become waste-free.  In April, Stop and Shop opened a green energy facility next to the company’s distribution center in Freetown, the second of its kind and the first of its kind on the East Coast, according to Phil Tracey, spokesman for Stop and Shop New England.

Every food item that cannot be donated to food pantries is brought to the facility that uses anaerobic digestion to turn the waste into a biogas that powers 40 percent of the 1.1-million-square-foot distribution center.

Anaerobic digestion is a process in which “microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen,” According to the American Biogas Council website. The products of the anaerobic digestion are biogas, which is primarily methane and carbon dioxide, and a dry material that can be used for compost.

Stop and Shop donates the compost material to farms. Prior to the green energy facility’s construction, Stop and Shop trucks used to drop items off at stores and then came back to the distribution center empty, Tracey said. Now, the trucks come back full of approximately 95 tons of food a day to be converted into energy and compost material from 208 of its 212 stores in New England. Employees have not yet found an effective way to bring waste from the Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket stores to the facility. “We’re literally taking food that would have ended up in a landfill and turning it into energy,” Tracey said.

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