March 7, 2017

How a Gardens School’s Lunch Leftovers Are Being Converted to Water

It’s “digested” about 7,000 pounds since November.

The Power Knot Liquid Food Composter can handle just about any food, except for avocado pits and steak bones.

PALM BEACH GARDENS — A small, quiet machine tucked into a corner of the cafeteria at one Palm Beach Gardens school is accomplishing a mighty feat: converting 150 pounds of half-eaten sloppy Joes, pasta, potatoes and the like into usable water.

Arthur I. Meyer Jewish Academy leaders believe theirs is the only school in Florida with the Power Knot Liquid Food Composter. The stainless steel stomach contains food-grade plastic pellets with enzymes that help break down the food as it’s tossed about in water.

The gadget is putting a $300 dent in what used to be about $1,400 in trash fees and generating real-life lessons in recycling and ecology for the students, school officials said.

Since the mini-fridge-sized machine was installed in November, it has digested about 7,000 pounds of food waste, Operations Manager Steven Orlinsky said. That is 7,000 pounds of muck that no longer needs to be hauled off for disposal.

“We’ve eliminated pretty much all of our garbage waste and turned it into recycling,” Orlinsky said.

It’s up to the academy’s students to make sure the composter isn’t fed something foul. They sort their food and other recyclables from trash when they’re finished eating. They keep an eye on each other to make sure they get it right, Interim Head of School Maya Scwartz said.

“The kids are very excited,” Scwartz said. “They’re part of the recycling process. They take pride in that.”

The machine generates nightly reports of how much it has ingested, but it’s nearly impossible to discern exactly how much water it’s produced. The output varies based on the water solubility of the food that’s tossed in, said Tony Aiello, president of Access Recycling Solutions, the company that owns the composter.

A piece of watermelon, for example, will produce more water than a piece of chicken. The water culled from these castoffs then is drained away like any other water, waiting to irrigate the next golf course or lawn.

The mechanized composter can chew up just about anything and spit it out as non-drinkable water. It can handle chicken wings and rib bones – but not the T-Bone of steak, Aiello said. The bones just take longer to break down, he said. The one thing this stomach sours on: avocado and other fruit pits.

And if a child accidentally throws in something that’s non-digestible? No damage done.

Orlinsky just puts on a glove, reaches into that gullet and pulls it out.

The Miami Dolphins, the InterContinental Miami hotel and more than a dozen local country clubs have the machines, which come in seven sizes. One mechanical belly is large enough to down 2,000 pounds in one day.

They’re self-cleaning, and, most importantly to Orlinsky, give off no odor. The enzyme chips need to be replaced about once a year, Aiello said.

Power Knot