Days of Waste and Roses: Turning Leftover Food into Sustainable Fertilizer

Airport’s innovation program partners with local organization to keep food waste out of landfills

By gmastrangelo

Published November 20, 2023

Read Time: 2 mins


This spring Pittsburgh-based Ecotone Renewables partnered with Pittsburgh International Airport to create a more sustainable option for food waste, and the partnership already is yielding dividends – and roses.

The partnership is through the airport’s xBridge innovation program, which works with tech companies to develop and test new technologies on the airport campus.

Instead of hauling food waste to dumpsters each night, employees at the landside terminal Dunkin’ Donuts feed leftover coffee and donuts to Ecotone’s waste digestor, known as ZEUS (Zero Emissions Upcycling System). In only a few weeks, ZEUS turns the leftovers into Soil Sauce, a liquid fertilizer that is more sustainable than synthetic fertilizers.

Does it work? Ask Field Maintenance Supervisor Jim Macon. He treated the roses around the terminal with the Soil Sauce every Friday this fall, and he’s seen noticeable results.

Sustainable, innovative practices in action

Diverting food waste into a fertilizer or other useful products helps the environment by keeping it out of landfills, where it produces methane gas and contributes to climate change. Ecotone’s digestor instead captures the methane gas and uses it to power the system.

Leah Simoncelli, the program manager for xBridge, considers Ecotone a step in the right direction toward the airport’s sustainability goals.

“As an airport, we’re the front door to Pittsburgh, so it’s vital that we lead with innovative, sustainable practices.” Simoncelli said. “Ecotone helps us accomplish that.”

Kyle Wyche, Ecotone COO and co-founder, is thrilled to see how Ecotone’s partnership with the airport has grown thus far.

“If you have a big transportation location like this where you might be putting out more emissions with the amount of air traffic that’s going back and forth, it’s nice that we can focus on diverting emissions where we can,” Wyche said. “We’re really here to support the airport in their mission of becoming more sustainable and diverting food waste from landfills.”

Supporting local artists

When the digestor arrived at the airport in the spring, it was a giant green container. Now, it’s entirely covered in vibrant colors. Artist Juliandra Jones spent days at the airport covering the digestor in spray paint to create a mural that showcases how it works.

This isn’t the first waste digestor that has been turned into a mural. Each time Ecotone deploys a new system, it engages local artists to turn it into something eye-catching.

By allowing a local artist to paint the ZEUS, Ecotone turns what could be an eyesore into something that looks good and builds community support, Kyle Lew, Ecotone CEO and co-founder, explained.

“We want to make this a hyper-local organization,” Wyche said. “Wherever we focus in on, we want to support the community.”

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