Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Behind the scenes "Organic" Garbage tour at Scarborough Town Centre

Scarborough Town Centre had some booths set up for Earth Day yesterday afternoon. One was set up with colouring pages, one had a "make your own pine cone bird feeders" station, and one had a large glass cylinder filled with plastic bottles. Participants had to guess how many plastic bottles were in the cylinder and the winner will receive a $100 gift certificate for the mall. My favourite was the behind the scenes tour.

Our tour guide took us through the food court, showing us organic waste bins set up next to each garbage can. (Although these bins are meant for food waste ONLY, of course people throw in napkins, plastic forks, and Styrofoam containers, because they are lazy and can't walk less than a second to the garbage can next to it!)

Then he walked us to the back doors, through the long tunnel which lead to the "ORCA" room.

Step 1: Each restaurant in the food court has big plastic bins, where they collect all there food waste (leftover food, fruit/vegetable peels, etc). The "garbage" workers collect all the bins from the mall at the end of each day. (Some restaurants request more bins, depending on how much food waste they collect. Example, places like "Freshly Squeezed" have more bins because of all the fruit peels.)

Step 2: The bins are weighed. The "garbage" workers log in to their log book how much food waste was collected for the day. Some days there's more, some days there's less. On average, about 40-45 bins are collected on a daily basis.

Step 3: The bins are stored in a large refrigerator to prevent the food from rotting and smelling up the room. (Note: The room has it's very own deodorizing system set up, and it actually doesn't smell at all.)

Step 4: The ORCA machine is fed four bins every few hours. It can't take any more than that. Just like our bodies can't eat all our 3 meals in one sitting, neither can the ORCA. The only food it cannot accept is beef bones and oil. The leftover oil is collected in a separate container. The oil is poured into a tank, which transforms the cooking oil into bio fuel.

The ORCA system

How the ORCA works is: It has little black pieces in the machine which contain enzymes. The enzymes break up all the food and turns it into water. The ORCA system leaves behind a small amount of residue (like a muddy/pulpy substance), which goes through a mesh (with 0.44 mm small holes) and turns the food waste into water. The water goes through pipes, which leads to a water plant. The water is then purified, and recycled. The entire process (of breaking down the food) takes 24 hours. There's always people monitoring the machine: Two men during the day, and one man on night duty.

The entire system is entirely environmentally friendly. Furthermore, there is no need for trucks to come and pick up food waste, reducing STC's carbon footprint. Scarborough Town Centre is one of the first shopping centres in Canada to develop this technology. Although this system has been in the United States for a while now, it is relatively new to Canada. Other places that use the ORCA system are Credic Valley hospital (in Mississauga), Seneca College (King campus), Costco, and the Metro Convention Centre downtown. The MCC actually has two machines, since they accumulate so much traffic. STC started using the ORCA system about a year ago. Within the last year, they have successfully diverted over 330,000 organic waste from landfills.

The clever little guy is the Trademarked Scarborough Town Centre (ORCA) logo

The toilet tank is used as a "power flush" system. The system is flushed several times a day, to avoid a food flood!

This is where the food waste was originally collected, for trucks to come and collect it and take it to landfills. It is now only used for recycling.

The tour was really neat! I've always been fascinated with what happens behind closed doors. I don't know if I'll ever been able to look at the mall the same way again. It was interesting to learn the step-by-step process of what happens to all the food waste. Furthermore, it's nice to know places are starting to use this (environmentally friendly) technique to get rid of garbage!