This New Gadget Promises to Transform Food Scraps Into Fertilizer in 24 Hours

Zera Food Recycler, from Whirlpool Corporation
Whirlpool Corporation

The Zera Food Recycler, from Whirlpool Corporation's innovation incubator, WLabs, is a residential "composting" appliance for kitchen scraps.

For those without a compost pile, a worm bin, or access to a composting service, there's a new kitchen appliance designed to deal with the inevitable food scraps that often end up in the landfill. The Zera Food Recycler is said to be able to break down a week's worth of food scraps into a homemade fertilizer within 24 hours, which could help families reduce their production of an average of 400 pounds of food waste annually.

How the Zera Food Recycler Works

The Zera Food Recycler is designed to fit right into the kitchen as a freestanding appliance, and to be as simple to use as just scraping your plate or pan into the opening, after which the automated and app-controlled unit stirs and aerates the food scraps along with a little bit of secret sauce ("a plant-based additive"), and the finished product drops into a tray at the bottom. The details are a little sparse on the unit, but the website says the system "utilizes oxygen, moisture, heat, a plant-based additive, and an agitator," which can reduce the volume of the food scraps "by two-thirds within 24 hours."

Measuring 11" x 22" x 33.75" and weighing in at 118.6 pounds, the Zera is intended to be an integral part of the food preparation space, where it will provide a convenient and accessible location for disposing of food scraps, and one that looks like it belongs in the kitchen. As food scraps tend to be on the 'green' side of the compost equation, the Zera is designed to use an additional 'brown' material made from coir (coconut husk) and baking soda, which, when combined with the regular stirring for aeration and some heat and moisture, is claimed to rapidly speed decomposition of the scraps. Although the device is said to be able to break down the scraps within 24 hours, it's not fully finished compost at that point (in my opinion), but as it appears to be a flow-through system rather than a batch processor, the accumulated output of the system over a week or three could be a significant addition to a garden plot.

"With an estimated 40% of food in the United States wasted every year, the ZeraTM system ensures that food waste can be converted into a homemade fertilizer, as opposed to being disposed into a landfill. We're thrilled to be introducing this latest offering for home kitchens, which delivers on Whirlpool Corporation's promise of purposeful innovation." - Brett Dibkey, VP of Integrated Business Units at Whirlpool Corporation

Here's a hands-on look at it from CNET:

Combating Food Waste

I'm not sure how I feel about this one yet, as I almost put it under the 'just what we needed' category, but if it performs as promised, and is priced reasonably, it could be an option for the compost-less, although it certainly doesn't seem to be a scalable solution to food waste ("An electric composter in every kitchen!). It's far more effective to reduce the amount of food waste that gets generated in the first place, and to have municipal, community, or neighborhood food waste solutions managing the actual decomposition of the organic matter, but that's a whole other topic entirely. I do think we need home-scale waste solutions, but I'd lean toward the lower-tech options, such as worm composting, rather than those that need a power outlet. However, your mileage may vary, and an app-controlled electric 'food recycler' might be just the ticket for some situations.

The bigger picture is that food waste is a huge issue, and sending food waste (and yard waste and other organic materials) to landfills is a ridiculous practice which adds to methane emissions (20% comes from landfills, according to the EPA). Meanwhile, we're also approaching peak soil and peak fertilizer, and need to close the circle, so to speak on organic materials, in order to grow more sustainably for an increasingly populated world. Although post-consumer kitchen food scraps represent only a small portion of the overall amount of food waste, 95% of it is currently being sent to landfills, so being able to convert that into a usable resource at home, or at the very least, in your neighborhood, seems to be a step in the right direction. And if a mega-manufacturer such as Whirlpool is putting resources behind this, we may see other competitive entries into the home waste conversion space as well.

The new device will debut this coming January at the Consumer Electronics Show, at which time the market will be tested through a crowdfunding campaign with an early bird price of US$699 (estimated MSRP of US$1199), and could be in select markets in the spring of 2017. Those interested in updates on the progress can sign up at Zera.