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Check out this story from Food Management Magazine which features SHFM Past President, Mark Freeman.
The following is reprinted with permission of Food Management.

Minding Waste at Microsoft
By Mike Buzalka at Food Management Magazine
Microsoft’s huge headquarters campus in Redmond, Wash., is not only a small city with its some 44,000 onsite employees, but also a great platform for testing various ways conservation, sustainability and waste reduction strategies can be put in effect on a significant scale.
And that is a mission the high-tech giant takes very seriously, as was validated most recently by Microsoft’s reportedly becoming the first technology company to receive “zero waste” certification from the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council.
“Zero waste” in the council’s definition actually means diverting at least 90 percent of the waste generated from local landfills, and Microsoft’s rate is several percentage points above that threshold, says Mark Freeman, the company’s senior manager for global dining services.
“Within the dining program it’s even higher than that,” he adds. “We’re completely compostable on our disposableware like plates, bowls, [cutlery], cups and so forth.” He also cites the dining program’s longtime work with the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) on achieving GRA certification for the campus cafes. Today, he notes proudly, all of the 38 cafes at Redmond are 3-star GRA certified “and a couple are moving into 4 star.”

GRA’s 4-star certification involves areas like local sourcing and the use of organics, areas Microsoft’s dining program is actively pursuing with initiatives like growing its own lettuce in indoor vertical gardens and working with local farmers to rescue “misfit produce” that is traditionally plowed under because it doesn’t meet commercial aesthetic standards but is otherwise perfectly edible.

“Now we’re getting that produce and chopping it up for the salad bar and the soups and that sort of thing,” Freeman offers. “So from a waste reduction standpoint, we’re really going back to the farm, if you will.”

That’s in addition to the some 18,000 tons of garbage diverted from landfills annually by just the dining program at the Redmond campus, and the 12,000 tons of single-stream recycling that’s been diverted, Freeman says.

No detail, it seems, is too small not to be considered for improvement. For example, the campus has eliminated all portion-control condiment packets, most of which traditionally wind up in landfills as they aren’t recyclable or compostable. Instead, the Microsoft cafes have portion cups made from a plant-based material that is compostable to hold condiments.

Another example: The fruits and vegetables that flavor the infused water dispensers in hundreds of campus kitchenettes are collected and pulped to produce compost that’s used in the campus landscaping.

Currently under construction is a bio-digester unit that will convert food waste from the catering program into methane gas to generate electricity that will then be used to heat the water for the program’s dish machine. Freeman hopes to have the bio-digester up and running by mid-summer.

Currently in the back of the house, any overproduction eligible for donation goes to local food banks, while the rest heads for the compost heap.
Not that there is that much overproduction. The dining program, which is managed by Compass Group North America, uses Compass’s own Trim Trax program to measure, track and thus reduce food waste, and the company also works with the LeanPath food waste prevention organization to gauge production to anticipated demand so leftovers are minimized.

A further refinement using Microsoft’s own Power BI analytic tools is in the works, Freeman says.
“What it does is capture big data and use it in a good way,” he explains, cautioning that the initiative is still very much in the pilot stage. The “big data” includes everything from POS records to weather, traffic and badge swipe data (badge swipe records show how many people are in a particular building at any given time).
For example, Freeman says, “we’re tracking the data off our cash registers and putting it together with weather data to see how many carbohydrates are consumed on a sunny day versus a cloudy day. The next step will be to use predictive analytics to drive decision making around food production.”
That’s just one of the cutting-edge waste reduction strategies under consideration or in the testing phase.

Others include a unit called Aquaboy that dispenses drinking water collected from the moisture in the air. There is currently one Aquaboy unit on the Microsoft campus as a test, and “we’re finding it pretty successful,” Freeman says. “It dispenses delicious water.” He says the only potential snag is that a building’s HVAC system may have to adjust the humidity level to allow the Aquaboy to function properly.  

Another cutting-edge solution under consideration involves black soldier fly larvae, which consume several times their body weight in waste over their three- to four-week growth period. The idea is to use the larvae to chow their way through food waste and then, just before they are ready to hatch, kill and process them into a high-protein food for fish or chickens.

“We haven’t started the program yet, but we’re seriously looking at stepping into the black soldier fly world,” Freeman quips.

View the original story with photography on the Food Management site.