High-tech hydroponic containers allow for soil-less cultivation and a carefully controlled yield.
IKEA is hoping to improve its environmental track record by serving salad grown at its stores. The company announced the project at the end of last year, but only just demonstrated how the plan will work at a store event in Kaarst, western Germany, on April 3rd.
Lettuce and herbs are grown hydroponically, that is, without soil or pesticides, using LED lights powered by renewable energy. This method uses 90 percent less water and half the surface area of conventional farming, and produces a harvest in five weeks.
The system used for growing the plants is a 30 square meter 'farming technology container' made by Bonbio, a Swedish circular farming company. It has four shelves and can hold up to 3,600 plants in total. These are fed with nutrients extracted from organic waste, including leftover food from IKEA's restaurants. From Bonbio's website,
"Most of IKEA Sweden’s waste food is already sent to various biogas plants, including the biogas plant in Helsingborg run by our sister company OX2 Bio. At this biogas plant, Bonbio turns waste food into plant nutrients that are then used to grow lettuce."
Because the lettuce is grown on site, it has no transportation costs or emissions. Similarly, production can be scaled to a particular store's level of demand, which reduces food waste. Over the course of a year, a single container can produce 5 tons of lettuce.
Jonas Carlehed, sustainability manager of Ikea Sweden, said last December, "More than 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions come from food. As part of Ikea's quest to find new, innovative and sustainable solutions for food production, we are testing this circular culture model for lettuce."
The salad project will roll out officially at two stores in Helsingborg and Malmö, Sweden. The long-term goal is for the entire IKEA franchise to be self-sufficient when it comes to production of salad, herbs, and other greens.