SINGAPORE — Local sustainable food packaging company Tria has begun a six-month-long pilot with fast-food chain KFC Singapore to turn single-use packaging and food waste into agricultural fertiliser — an endeavor they claim to be a world first.
Mr Ng Pei Kang, Tria’s chief executive officer, said during an event launch for the pilot on Tuesday (June 21) that the biggest challenge when it comes to recycling food packaging is segregating the containers from the food waste.
The cost of segregating the two, he said, can be up to five times the cost of the packaging itself, so it does not make business sense for food and beverage firms to make an attempt at recycling.
“What we are trying to do is solve the problem of segregation…by avoiding segregation,” he said.
As part of the pilot, KFC will be using its outlet at Northpoint City in Yishun to testbed Tria’s solution, which will see the outlet serving food in Tria’s proprietary Neutria foodware — which is essentially compostable packaging made from plant-based material such as corn or sugarcane fibres.
Mr Ng told TODAY that customers will not be paying more as a result of this programme.
HOW IT WORKS
The packaging and food waste from the KFC outlet is collected and sent to a recycling plant where it is dumped together into a machine, a type of composter patented by Tria, that breaks the waste down into smaller components before microbes digest it.
This turns the waste into fertiliser, in a process which takes about a day. Mr Ng added that the machine is able to sift out anything that is inorganic, such as metal or plastic that gets into the food and packaging waste.
Mr Ng said that one tonne of waste is able to yield about 200kg to 300kg of fertiliser, which he eventually hopes to sell to both local and Malaysian farmers once the company is able to put out a consistent supply.
For now, Mr Ng said the success of the pilot hinges on three factors.
The first, he said, will be how customers take to the functionality of the new packaging and whether it might require more fine-tuning. As the packaging is quite similar to regular packaging, he does not anticipate problems.
A KFC spokesperson told TODAY, however, that the firm will gather feedback on the packaging from both the outlet’s team as well as patrons.
The second factor involves the waste collection process. In general, shopping mall operators are responsible for dealing with the waste collection for their tenants.
For the pilot, KFC’s general manager Lynette Lee said during the launch that the firm has been able to come to an arrangement with Northpoint City’s operator, Frasers Property, to facilitate the collection of the outlet’s food waste and have it sent to Tria.
Mr Ng said they will be exploring to see how this “waste-owner model” can be extended, and whether it means Tria will eventually be able to represent KFC at all shopping malls in terms of waste collection.
The final factor relates to whether the fertiliser the firm creates contains the right nutrients that farmers need to suit different farming seasons. Mr Ng said the firm is working on this with one of its partners, Yara, a Norwegian fertiliser company.
Being able to create a fertiliser that is of a commercial grade suitable for growing food on a mass scale will be the “chapter that will unlock new growth potential” for Tria, said Mr Ng.
When asked if operational costs will also be looked at, Mr Ng responded by saying that the pilot is more of a “qualitative assessment in terms of functionality”.
“It’s a bit too early to be considering operational costs because there is no economy of scale (right now),” he said.
Once the pilot is over, KFC said it will work with Tria to assess the scalability of the initiative across all 80 of its KFC restaurants in Singapore as part of the chain’s “continued efforts towards environmental sustainability”.