The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the U.S. generated about 36 million tons of food waste in 2012. Only 5% of that was diverted from landfills or incinerators. Last month, Massachusetts banned commercial food waste, enforcing a redirection of that waste into composting, conversion or recycling.

Pennsylvania has no such ban. Coupled with the fact that we have some of the lowest landfill tipping fees in the region, our restaurants and food establishments have very little incentive to reroute food waste to better use.

Digest-o-Mat aims to change that with the first small-scale system that can transform food waste into energy.

Carnegie Mellon University architecture students Jacob Douenias and Rohan Rathod founded Digest-o-Mat as an offshoot of Douenias’ thesis that investigates the symbiotic relationship between microorganisms and architecture—how waste in a building can be harnessed to produce energy.

The project evolved into looking at the restaurant industry and servicing the small  and mid-sized restaurants that most commercial composting services cannot serve. This prompted the design of an on-site system that converts waste into fuel and liquid fertilizer or “compost tea.”

Digest-o-Mat is an end-to-end service that audits a restaurant’s needs, designs a system that is tailored to the restaurant and performs the install and maintenance. The restaurant can also either opt to use the fuel and fertilizer generated by the system or opt for Digest-o-Mat to resell it.

The company is piloting its first installation at Kevin Sousa’s yet-to-open Superior Motors in Braddock, Pa.

Working with Digest-o-Mat is consistent with the restaurant’s long term goals, according to Sousa. “Over the next couple of years, we would like for Superior Motors to be a zero waste establishment. Having the ability to redirect 75 pounds a day of food waste from land fills is in line with that.”

A Digest-o-Mat starter system runs about $10,000 and comes with the digester, greenhouse and food waste shredder.

Douenias says that they are aiming to break ground at Superior Motors in February 2015. The company was recently awarded a $9,000 Sprout Fund grant, part of which covers the pilot project in Braddock, Pa.

Leah Lizarondo

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment. She is the Chief Veghacker, recipe creator and curator at The Brazen Kitchen, where she writes about food and food policy. She writes about the intersection of food, health, innovation and policy.