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November 2002 [updated March 2003]
By Wayne Niemi
SPECIAL REPORT: Pulper Fiction...and Fact

Yes, a pulper can dramatically improve your waste handling efficiency, but make sure you're armed with the facts before you spec or install one. These systems have been around for over a quarter of a century, and they're still sometimes misunderstood.

Sure, you started out in the food trade. But you’ve surely learned by now that you’re also in the waste management business. Whether it’s food waste alone or paper, plastic cutlery and cardboard, too, your operations produce mountains of garbage on a daily basis. And you’re paying employees and haulers to get it out of your stores, and off your property, ASAP.

Fortunately, you’ve got choices when it comes to managing garbage. Reducing volume is one route, and for both commercial and noncommercial ops, that could mean installing a pulping system. Pulpers typically can reduce food, paper, plastic and other waste by “as much as” 90%, according to some makers, which translates into 10 bags of garbage compressed to one bag.

Impressive, yes, but with their high price tags, pulpers aren’t for everyone. Unless you’re serving more than 1,500 meals a day, pulpers may not be a reasonable solution for you. Street prices range from $8,000 to $15,000 for small, mini units to more than $125,000 for large, specially engineered systems.

When we informally quizzed industry insiders about the leading pulper suppliers, five names came up repeatedly. Domestic suppliers of the larger machines include Adamation Inc., Champion Industries, Hobart Corp. and Somat Corp. Another supplier, In-Sink-Erator, offers a full line of mini-pulper options. And just so you know, there are a couple other suppliers, as well, which we list at the end of this story.

If you’re spec’ing pulpers overseas, you may want to contact the larger suppliers in Europe: Hobart and Meiko.

Truth be told, if you’re spec’ing for a fast-food chain, you don’t need pulpers. You’ve likely already gone through a tremendous amount of effort to reduce back-of-house trash. If you’re toiling for a full-service chain, you’ve probably already designed your stores to make waste handling as efficient as possible, and you may think you don’t need a pulper. And you might not, if your building layout allows for an easy flow of waste back of house.

But when building configurations pose challenges—kitchen on multiple floors, or really tight spaces that make many trash containers impractical—a full-service restaurant can benefit from pulpers big time. Our cover-shot location, for example, Joey Buona’s Pizzeria Grille in downtown Chicago, occupies a multistory building and utilizes a pulper on each of two floors. The store actually houses two concepts, the Pizzeria Grille and the Buona Beef Express Café, and together they report 1,000 covers on weekdays and 2,500 on weekends.

John Iovinelli, manager of Joey Buona’s, says that after analyzing its options, the chain’s planning team thought pulpers would minimize overall waste costs and use fewer garbage containers. After investing $58,000 in an extractor and two pulpers (one of which appears in our lead photo), plus another $8,000 for total installation costs, the Pizzeria Grille expects the pulpers to pay for themselves in two and a half years.

“It’s too early to really know all the benefits of the pulpers, but we’re hoping we can accomplish the objectives of lowered overall waste costs and less space needed for containers,” says Iovinelli.

Joey Buona’s isn’t alone when it comes to full-service chains implementing pulpers, but the main users continue to be the big ops with the big waste issues: healthcare centers, colleges and universities, flight kitchens and prison systems. Some chains have shied away from pulpers for one simple reason: It’s possible that a pulper won’t actually save you money, at least not at first. In fact, in some areas it may cost you more in the long haul, due to the premium fees that some garbage hauling companies charge to remove denser waste.

The question of whether to pulp isn’t just about initial dollars and cents. Beneath the surface, there’s a host of other issues worth considering, including labor savings and improved sanitation with the continuous elimination of waste.

A Primer On Pulping
Think of a pulper as the jaws of death for nearly all your waste, food and otherwise. You can pulp all manner of food waste, plus plastic (straws, cutlery and the like), Styrofoam, cardboard and aluminum cans with nary a care—but keep all glass, metal, cloth and ceramic out, please. You turn on the machine, it adds water while awaiting your garbage, and then you feed your combined waste into the pulping chamber. From there, the machine goes to work. Internal cutting mechanisms promptly reduce the waste to a chopped, watery mass.

This pulverized waste, called pulp or slurry, is then sent along a plumbing line to an extractor, which suppliers call by various names: dewatering tower, hydra-extractor, waterpress, etc. In this tank, an auger spins the waste against a mesh screen and squeezes out the water. The screen typically features holes ranging from 60/1,000ths to 90/1,000ths of an inch. A semi-moist waste product is then expelled, landing either in a trash bin or in a Dumpster outside the building. The leftover liquid, which typically carries some dissolved food waste, is then rerouted back through the system.

This closed-loop concept gets a thumbs-up for green considerations because it uses a limited amount of water. Some fresh water does need to be added to the pulping system, since used water runs off into a drain during the pulping process. But a pulper can use as little as 1 to 2 gals. of water per minute, and occasionally as much as 5 gals. In comparison, a traditional food waste disposer—which handles food waste only, no aluminum or other odds and ends—might use 7 to 8 gals. per minute.

A Lineup Of Options
All pulpers function similarly, though different manufacturers have different methods for accomplishing the same task. Some units are designed with a horizontal grinding mechanism in the grinding chamber, while others opt for a vertical chopping design. Some feature hardened stainless steel bars to crush the garbage, while others use a cutting mechanism equipped with carbide teeth.

Most new machines are made of heavy-gauge stainless steel. Pulpers aren’t really high-tech pieces of equipment, and until this year, there’s been very little development in the category as a whole. There are essentially only three different design configurations currently on the market.

At the high end of the price spectrum are engineered models, used mainly in high-volume operations. With these systems, pulper and extractor can be placed far away from one another and connected through a plumbing system.

Multiple pulpers can be placed throughout a facility—one in the vegetable prep area, another in the dish room, etc.—and routed to the same extractor. This centralizes garbage pickup. Or you can rout the dispelled pulp directly into a Dumpster.

These larger systems are custom designed with motors ranging in size from 10 hp (or sometimes lower) to a whopping 40 hp. Likewise, the extractor can be sized to accommodate any size load. Some can be fitted with either oversized or multiple augers. If you decide to purchase one of these machines, you’ll be working with engineers who will custom fit the machine to your operation and pulping needs. And you can count on being able to process all sorts of food and nonfood waste.

Medium-sized units place the extractor and pulper directly beside one another, or with just a small distance between them—say, with a wall separating them. These systems are designed to be standalone machines. They typically feature a 5-, 6- or 71&Mac218;2-hp motor to take on an assortment of garbage.

The newest entries in the waste handling arena are mini pulping systems designed for smaller footprints. These systems primarily handle food waste, although they can take on some nonfood waste in limited quantities as well. The disposers of these systems usually are powered by a 1-, 2- or 3-hp motor.

The Vagaries Of Sizing
Manufacturers all have different methods for determining which size machine is best for a facility. One factor, but only one, is the number of pounds of waste to be processed per peak hour. How do you measure the waste? As a rough rule of thumb, some figure a half-pound of waste per meal. But there’s also more to it. A half-pound of cooked vegetable waste, for example, is not the same as a half-pound that includes chicken bones or packaging materials. Consult with a pulper specialist to consider your waste “profile” and what to do about it.

Regardless of the type of system you choose, the resulting trash will be heavy. Though pulpers are effective at reducing the actual volume of trash, the end weight is the same, and may be heavier due to added water.

If your staff is hauling pulped waste to the Dumpster, there are a number of solutions for dealing with the extra weight. In some cases, a simple tilting cart may suffice if your Dumpster is located beneath the loading dock. In other situations, an actual hydraulic lift may be required to lift heavy loads for dumping. An easier solution is to simply take smaller amounts of garbage out more frequently.

Most manufacturers agree that pulpers should be cleaned at the end of every meal period, or at least at the end of every day. This is usually done by running an automated cleaning cycle. Opinions differ here: Some manufacturers say the auto cycle is typically enough to ensure that the pulping chamber and extractor are adequately cleaned. Others insist there will always be some residue left in the extractor tower. They recommend that the auger screen be removed and rinsed and the internal components sprayed down with a kitchen hose.

The Great Cardboard Debate
Maybe you’ve heard the rumor that you’ve got to feed your pulpers cardboard every day to keep them in tip-top shape. Since pulpers were designed to handle a wide variety of kitchen waste, it was long assumed that they needed to process, on a daily basis, a certain amount of fibrous product to operate at peak efficiency.

Most manufacturers now say there’s no need to use cardboard at the end of the day. However, a few say that it can’t hurt to process cardboard, and may help eliminate unpleasant odors by absorbing small food particles as it runs through the pulper.

There aren’t a lot of add-on features for pulpers, since they’re generally custom fitted to each account. However, there are a few things you might want to consider. Since pulpers continually chop, grind and process waste with vigorous internal action, they tend to be loud. If you’re concerned about noise, you should look for a system with enclosed piping or some other mechanism designed to reduce noise. Also, several manufacturers offer seismic pads, which go under the legs of the machine to reduce vibration noise.

A Who’s Who In Pulping
On to the suppliers. As we’ve already noted, these days there are five U.S. companies selling everything from gargantuan pulping systems to mini pulpers that tuck right under a dish table. For more details on the models listed here, peruse the spec boxes that appear throughout the story.

First up alphabetically, Adamation caters to the foodservice market with one basic pulping system that can be configured nine different ways, depending on where you want the chute positioned. The pulper is powered by a 10-hp motor, while the extractor relies on a 3&Mac218;4-hp motor.
The Adamation pulper is totally enclosed and made of stainless steel. The unit can process 2,000 lbs. of waste per hour using 4 gals. of water per minute. When paired with one of Adamation’s dish machines, this pulper uses the hot soapy water from the washing unit, which eliminates the need for a fresh water feed and sanitizer.

The pulper tank’s diameter measures 24”. Options include a trough magnet to catch silverware and other metal objects, as well as a silverware ring inside the machine that catches any stragglers before they get to the hammer anvils.

Champion steps up with the P5 Series of pulpers sporting pulping tank diameters of 24” and 30”. Each model is powered by a 5-hp motor. Meanwhile, the water extractor paired with these pulpers runs on a 2-hp motor.

Waste capacities for this line range from 500 to 1,000 lbs. per hour. When the motor’s running, a P5 machine uses 11&Mac218;2 gals. of water per minute. Depending on the waste mix, the operator can adjust water consumption higher. On average, water consumption for most applications comes in at 3 gals.

Construction on the P5 Series is all stainless. The options list includes insulated stainless panels that surround the cutting chamber and water extractor to reduce noise, plus a powerful magnet that rescues silverware and other metal objects before they go into the drink.

Hobart’s WS Series Ecolo-Line offers two models: the WS-800, which chomps down 800 lbs. of waste per hour, and the WS-1000, which can take on 1,000 lbs. Water consumption for each comes in at 3 gals. per minute. The tank diameter on each model is 27”.

The WS models get the job done via stationary cutters mounted on the tank bottom, a design that provides horizontal shearing action, plus the power of a 5-hp pulping motor. The extractor motor rides along on 3 hp.

In addition, Hobart offers what it calls a mini pulper, the EL3, which offers waste handling of up to 475 lbs. per hour. The pulping motor here is also a 5-hp job, with built-in overload protection.

In-Sink-Erator leads the charge in mini pulping systems with three models in the Mini Waste Xpress line. The WX-100, WX-200 and WX-300 process 300, 500 and 700 lbs. of waste per hour, respectively. With a height of 34”, each unit fits easily under a dish table. Xpress units are designed primarily for food waste, and in fact are recommended when the waste mix is at least 50% food. One key feature: the auger and auger screen are removable for cleaning in a dish machine.

The Mini Waste Xpress package includes a 1-, 2- or 3-hp disposer, a water extractor, electrical control, mounting assembly, solenoid valve and flow control valve. Construction is all stainless. Model WX-100 uses 3 to 5 gals. of water per minute; Model WX-200 requires 3 to 7 gals.; and the WX-300 can be set to use 5 to 10 gals. per minute. All depends on your waste and the water needed to do the job.

Somat’s new Super 60, introduced earlier this year, has been redesigned from the ground up. Years of customer comments regarding vibration noise and other issues sent Somat designers back to the drawing board to develop the quieter Super 60. The unit now offers a pulping tank that’s not rigidly mounted, plus there’s an isolation mount to help control the sound of vibration.

The stainless steel Super 60 sports a 6-hp drive motor and a 2-hp extractor motor. Water usage can be controlled by the operator and typically lands in the range of 1 to 2 gals per minute. The pulper tank’s diameter is 251&Mac218;2”.

The redesign also has altered the positioning of the disposer motor. These machines now feature a side-mounted motor design. The benefit: In the event of a water seal deteriorating due to leakage, water will not run into the motor and burn it out.

Somat also touts the Super 60’s ability to handle tougher waste, such as Styrofoam and plastic film.

Another feature is the fully enshrouded drive, piping and electrical system. This results in smooth outside surfaces for easier cleaning and improved sanitation. And the Super 60 offers a 6” floor clearance for more mopping space. In addition, Somat offers a full range of other pulping system.

A Final Note
Regardless of the machine you choose, you’ll want to make sure that your employees are adequately trained on the system. While these units can accommodate an occasional tin can, crunching metal certainly isn’t recommended.

You’ll also want to make sure you have adequate support services available in your area. These machines are designed to aggressively attack and grind garbage. And as such, they require regular periodic support and maintanence.

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