While you’ll still find food packaging aplenty at Sainsbury’s, the United Kingdom’s second-largest supermarket chain continues to break new ground when it comes to keeping surplus foodstuffs and expired edibles as far away from landfills as humanly possible.

You see, Sainsbury’s isn’t one to toss day-old baked goods, about-to-turn produce, and leftover prepared foods at the end of the day. This isn't a grocery store where the dumpsters are particularly dive-able.

In-line with its zero-waste ambitions, the retailer, which encourages shoppers to "Live Well For Less," donates whatever comestibles it can to charities and local food banks. Food no longer fit for human consumption is processed into animal feed for agricultural operations. And, as the Guardian notes, one Sainsbury’s outpost in Liverpool even carts off excess bananas to a safari park where the resident monkeys have no qualms with gobbling up overripe fruit.

Despite initiatives that help to feed both needy humans and hungry animals, barnyard or otherwise, with surplus product, Sainsbury’s is still left with a massive amount of food waste — the really rotten stuff — with nowhere to go but the landfill.

But it doesn’t.

Instead, thousands of tons of no-longer-edible leftovers are collected from Sainsbury's stores and transported by the retailer's delivery vehicles to a centralized depot. From there, it's hauled off to a facility in the West Midlands, where, through the magic of anaerobic digestion, the food waste is transformed into bio-methane gas used to generate electricity. That electricity is fed into the national electric grid.

The scheme, carried out by Sainsbury’s in partnership with the anaerobic digestion facility’s operator, Biffa, yields enough electricity to power 2,500 homes a year. Although other British supermarkets have avoided sending old food to landfills by getting in on the AD action, Sainsbury’s is currently the U.K.’s largest retail user of anaerobic digestion.

Now, a two-years-in-the-making program will enable a single Sainsbury’s superstore located near the Biffa plant in Cannock, Staffordshire, to operate independently from the grid — the store will receive all of its power from its own garbage (and the garbage of other Sainsbury’s stores). The Cannock Sainsbury’s store, which will be connected to the anaerobic digestion facility via a 1.5-kilometer (.9-mile) electric cable, is the first retail establishment in the U.K. to be powered by food waste and food waste alone.

Proclaims Paul Crewe, head of sustainability for Sainsbury’s, of the game-changing, garbage-powered store: “We send absolutely no waste to landfill and are always looking for new ways to reuse and recycle. So we’re delighted to be the first business ever to make use of this linkup technology, allowing our Cannock store to be powered entirely by our food waste.”

Previously, Sainsbury's has dabbled with checkout counters powered by kinetic energy-harvesting parking lot speedbumps. In 2013, the retailer unveiled a pair of "Triple Zero" grocery stores in England — one located in Leicester and the other in Weymouth — that, like all Sainsbury's locations, send zero waste to landfills. Additionally, these two solar panel-topped markets generate zero energy usage-related carbon emissions and are "water neutral."

Sainsbury's new closed-loop food recycling program is brilliant — and just the latest bit of innovative waste-to-energy news out of a country that’s already keen on fueling transatlantic flights with rubbish, erecting power stations that run on sewer-clogging cooking grease, and keeping flats cozy with Tube-harvested waste heat.

Via [The Guardian], [BBC]

Infographic via Sainsbury's

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

A British supermarket that's powered by its own garbage
Through a pioneering waste-to-energy scheme, the spoiled stock at a Sainsbury's superstore will be used to keep the lights on.