Two Quebec entrepreneurs have developed an appliance that turns food waste into fertilizer.
If you’re one of the many people who would love to compost but hate the smell and added effort that comes with a green bin program, you might be in luck. On October 15, 2019, Elizabeth Coulombe and Valérie Laliberté, two entrepreneurs from Québec City, launched a Kickstarter campaign that has sent shockwaves through the media. After only one day, they were able to raise over $1,000,000 to fund their revolutionary countertop composting appliance. By the end of the campaign on November 14, 2019, that number had gone up to just over $1,700,000. Considering their goal was to raise $70,000, to say they succeeded is an understatement.
What is all the hype about? The appliance in question, Tero, is capable of reducing the volume of food waste by almost 90% in only 3 hours. Instead of waiting for nature to take its course, Tero grinds and dries food, transforming it into a natural fertilizer that could be compared to loose-leaf tea. Simply fill the device’s 4.5L container over the course of the week, turn it on when it becomes full, and scream in excitement as only a handful of fertilizer is left behind. Since it is completely dry, it can be stored for up to a year or applied directly to plants or gardens, depending on the season. The fertilizer is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, all nutrients essential for the growth of plants. Once applied to soil, the fertilizer continues to mature as plants absorb the nutrients they need.
The idea that would one day become Tero was born while Elizabeth and Valérie were studying Product Design at Laval University in Québec City. Like most undergraduate students, the co-founders of Tero were tasked with a final project for one of their classes. In most cases, these projects are often forgotten once graded, but having received immensely positive feedback, and both having an interest in entrepreneurship, they decided to keep the project alive. They sought advice from ‘Entrepreneuriat Laval’, a division of Laval University which aims to guide new entrepreneurs, to find out how they could turn this project into a business. Two years later, they are doing exactly that and succeeding.
Now more than ever, institutions of higher education are embracing a fast-pace, tech-driven economy by nurturing and inspiring innovation, and fostering entrepreneurship. A simple Internet search will reveal that nearly every Canadian university emphasizes their strive for innovation, a term that is becoming increasingly attractive to prospective students. It remains imperative that students gain a strong, consistent academic background in whatever field they choose to study, but to be considered to have a ‘good education’ that will allow one to stand out in the job market, universities need to provide more than just the basics.
As such, once Elizabeth and Valérie had decided to go forward with Tero, they participated in numerous contests, exhibitions, and programs to gain traction and credibility regarding their product. Since then, they have received awards and developed partnerships which have allowed them to perform research, to innovate, and to perfect a technology that is high-performing and energy-efficient. With the money they were able to raise through Kickstarter, Tero is now ready to finish perfecting the design of the appliance, at which point they will be able to move towards manufacturing and distribution. Those who pledged a certain amount of money to the campaign will soon have access to some of the first Tero appliances made available to the public. Hopefully, gone are the days of reluctantly taking smelly, leaky bags of compost to the curbside, provided that is even an option, or trying to makeshift a worm farm composting system only to fail miserably.
Why is this important? When food waste ends up in a landfill, methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide1, is released into the atmosphere. This happens because in a landfill, waste is buried, creating an anaerobic, oxygen-less environment, allowing methane to be released instead of carbon dioxide. To make matters worse, some Canadian cities still have not implemented a green bin program. With food waste comprising 25-50%2 of most household residual waste, a significant amount of organics are making their way to landfills, where they will inevitably increase the amount of methane being released into the atmosphere. In fact, about 20% of Canada’s methane emissions come from landfills3. Composting at home could therefore prevent millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases from ever reaching the atmosphere, and acres of land from being developed and used to expand or create a new landfill.
Tero could play a key role in helping Canadian cities increase their diversion rate, that is, the amount of waste that is diverted from landfill or recycling. Many have already begun setting goals and putting plans into motion, but reaching these goals will be complex and require a lot of time and planning. One of the best ways for everyday consumers to reduce unnecessary food waste is to avoid buying items that will not be consumed in the first place. The reality is, however, that this is hard, and that even the best of us will end up producing food scraps in one way or another. Why not, then, make absolutely sure that your compost stays out of landfills by watching, with your own eyes, your food waste be transformed into precious fertilizer?
1) methane is 30x more potent than CO2
2) 45% of household waste if food waste
– Avoidable food waste accounts for over 100 kg (over 50 per cent) of all food waste generated by a household per year. (City of Toronto)
-City of London figure estimates that 45% of London’s household residual waste is comprised of organics, in other words, food waste
-nearly half of what we throw away is food waste (47%)
– Organic and kitchen waste makes up about 30% of the waste disposed by Canadian households.
-City of Edmonton estimates 22-26%
-City of Montreal estimates about 25%
3)20% of Canada’s emissions come from landfills