Garbage in, fertilizer out

Harvester at Market.JPGYou may have seen this thing down at the Pike Place Market. It looks like an overgrown ice machine at a chain hotel, with a big green tank attached. It’s called the WISErg Harvester, and it may save the world.

The Harvester eats food scraps and turns them into a soup of nutrients. Everything is monitored, so the system knows when the tank needs to be emptied; back at the main plant, the soup (or slurry) is converted into fertilizer. This isn’t a gadget for home use; it’s for supermarkets (overripe fruit, spoiled vegetables) and restaurants (fish bones, beef bones, food scraps, and so on), as much as two tons of food waste a day for large commercial installations.

The machine is neither a composter (producing greenhouse gases as a byproduct of anaerobic digestion) nor a compactor (requiring additional energy) but a new process entirely, invented here in Seattle by a couple of Microsofties. Customers can buy or lease; installation can be inside or outdoors. And that’s just the “garbage in” part of the equation. The end product is a completely organic fertilizer that can be applied to farmland as well as home gardens. One day, soon, these devices will be everywhere. For now, they’re being rolled out as quickly as the fledgling company’s finances will allow.