Food Service & Agriculture, Small Business & Startups, and Sustainability

Startup recycles food waste

October 20, 2014
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Indoor recycling concept gets $5K boost
A bin of organic food waste that can be recycled. Photo via Responcycle

A startup is developing an indoor composting system to give food waste a second life.


Start Garden, the $15-million seed fund in Grand Rapids, said last month that it will make an initial investment of $5,000 in Responcycle.

Incorporating a Japanese composting technique known as Bokashi, Responcycle uses a microbial process that can break down organic waste through a fermentation process, using inoculants and beneficial bacteria.

Amanda Prinzo, founder of Reponcycle, said the indoor recycling system is meant to address concerns with traditional organic waste composting, especially in urban settings.

“It is so acidic that it doesn’t harbor the types of bacteria that create methane, so it is a process that is low in greenhouse gases. It is faster, and it doesn’t smell,” Prinzo said. “I put together a system using technology that has been proven for use in these other industries that are similar — to try to scale it up for us to be able to process organic waste on a more industrial level indoors, without needing to have wide-open space.”

With a goal of launching a commercial operation in New York in an indoor facility, Prinzo said Responcycle aims to solve traditional issues of high temperatures creating dangerous gases and process delays due to weather, by having a space where organic waste is stored in tanks or vessels.

New law

With the upcoming implementation of new local laws mandating businesses in New York to separate and recycle organic waste by next summer, Prinzo said it was one of the reasons for launching Responcycle in New York.

The NYC Commercial Organics Law was enacted in 2013, with an anticipated effective date next July, and will impact large food service establishments, according to the NYC Department of Sanitation, Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling.

“I think if it is successful, that means similar laws might be enacted in other cities, and I am really looking forward to getting this off the ground here and being able to bring it to other cities, as well,” Prinzo said.

The idea

Growing up in Staten Island, N.Y., next to Fresh Kills Landfill, Prinzo said the idea for Responcycle developed after a lifetime of being conscious of where organic waste is sent.

“Every day going to dance class, going to movies, we would drive past the biggest landfill in the world," Prinzo said. "It was something at the time I thought was very normal. I thought it was in every town, and now I realize a lot of people don’t realize where our garbage goes and are trained not to think about."

After realizing the current organic-waste process doesn't have a better solution, especially in large cities, Prinzo said she began researching Bokashi and visiting community gardens in the city that are using the technique.

Prinzo then began researching similar fermentation processes used in industrial food processing, wastewater treatment and alcohol production to adopt the technology and equipment used on a large-scale commercial level.

“I did research and talked to a lot of people and discovered this Japanese fermentation method called Bokashi . . . but up until now, it has all been done in kind of a low-tech way. You mix it up, put it in a bucket and let it sit for two weeks.”

Next steps

Responcycle will use the Start Garden funds toward purchasing materials to build small-scale equipment to validate the startup's proof of concept.

“To start off, I am going to do a pilot program at a building in Brooklyn that has a lot of food businesses in it, but then I would want to move to a 10,000-square-foot facility to start off on a minuscule level,” Prinzo said. “Right now, I am doing some experiments in my apartment. I can’t really source the types of equipment I need small enough to fit in my apartment, but I do want to start testing things out before I really go to the next level.”

Responcycle is required to return to a monthly Start Garden Update Night event after a couple of months to present on its progress to be considered for further funding. 


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