Empire Zero food waste collection business gains popularity in Berkshires

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Photo Gallery | Taking food out of the waste stream

Phil Holloway is turning food trash into cash.

In just two years, the owner of Empire Zero has seen his New York-based food waste collection business become very popular with colleges, restaurants, hospitals and other commercial entities that generate plenty of unused food in the Albany, N.Y., area and Western Massachusetts, especially in the Berkshires.

Holloway cited Berkshire Medical Center, Fairview Hospital and Baba Louie's restaurants in Pittsfield and Great Barrington among his clients.

"Great Barrington is a [hotbed] of green consciousness," he said. "The demand is great, as it's all about landfill diversion."

Beside protecting the environment, Holloway expects to expand his business eastward, in part, due to the new Massachusetts regulations mandating businesses and institutions who produce at least one ton of food waste a week to recycle the organic material, removing it from the general solid waste stream.

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Empire Zero, based in Castleton, N.Y., about 30 miles west of Pittsfield, provides his customers lined 32- or 64-gallon totes that he recommends are emptied once a week in order to control odor and pests.

"Part of our success is we [provide full training to our customers [such as] schools, where we train the kids and train the staff."

The food waste Empire Zero collects ends up at one of four composting facilities: Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton, Meadow Farm in South Lee and two in eastern New York.

Holiday Brook Farm owner Dicken Crane started regularly accepting Empire Zero's truck loads of food waste several months before the new regulations took effect Oct. 1. He said an increase in food waste helps with the overall process of creating 1,200 tons of organic fertilizer each year -- half of which is sold.

"We're getting enough so we have the same amount of food waste in every batch of material," Crane said.

Some farms rely on the organics-to-energy method of recycling food and other organic material. Earlier this year, Pine Island Farm in Sheffield received a $281,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to install a second 225-kilowatt generator to increase the electricity capacity of the farm's existing anaerobic digester.

Operational since 2011, the anaerobic digester converts organic trash into electricity used by Pine Island, one of the state's largest dairy farms. Once the project is complete, MassCEC officials expect the extra generator will generate an additional 1.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year -- enough to power 200 average-size homes. Farm officials were unavailable for comment.


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