Harvest Power

Farm to fork to fuel to farm: putting organic waste resources to work

Every year, Americans discard approximately 40% of all food produced, generating 35 million tons of organic waste that is directed to landfills. This level of food waste is unprecedented in history and eclipses each of the country’s plastic, paper, metal, wood and glass waste streams. As food decomposes it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.  As a result, landfills now emit 25% of the nation’s methane every year. [1]


Two questions emerge: why do one in nine people in the world suffer from chronic hunger while Americans waste freely, and what are the business and environmental opportunities that arise from this system inefficiency? The former is a daunting question that requires careful consideration and cooperation at a global scale; it won’t be addressed here. Harvest Power has emerged as an effective market leader in efforts to address the latter question by intervening at the intersection of organic waste, clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and healthy communities. [2]organic_cycle-450x450

Harvest Power diverts organic waste, otherwise bound for landfills, for use as feedstock to generate renewable energy from anaerobic digestion and to manufacture soils, mulches, and fertilizers. Harvest annually produces 43 million bags of agricultural products and generates 65 billion watt hours of energy from 1.8 million tons of redirected organic waste. Representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency describe this business model as a quadruple win: “the process creates a biogas that generates safe, reliable, and cost effective renewable electricity and heat. It saves cities and towns money by lowering waste disposal costs. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions by taking rotting food waste out of landfills and incinerators, and it conserves scarce landfill space.’’ [3]  Returning unutilized resources back into the agricultural system via renewable energy and organic soils, mulches, and fertilizers drives our society towards a more sustainable state while creating value for every stakeholder.

biogas_systemWaste sorting, anaerobic digestion, and soil manufacturing are not novel or complex operations; almost 200 farms and over 1,500 wastewater treatment plants employ biogas systems [4].  What, then, is the operational secret sauce that supports Harvest’s business model?  Harvest Power’s operational approach to value creation is realized only through deliberate end-to-end stakeholder management. Harvest partners with and offers support to parties along the entire food production, distribution, and consumption value chain; in their own words “from soup to nuts, nuts to volts, and volts to vegetables.” Harvest currently partners with food waste generating businesses, waste haulers, municipalities, utilities, affected residents, and agricultural retailers. Since discarding food waste into the garbage remains the path of least resistance, Harvest must be deliberate about defining the value proposition of Harvest’s new system for each party in the chain and must incentivize them to participate. For example, to food waste generating businesses such as restaurants and supermarkets, Harvest provides fit-for-purpose sorting solutions and charges reduced disposal costs as compared to conventional landfill haulers. Further, Harvest partners with municipalities and utilities to advocate for policies that support renewable energy adoption and prohibit food waste from entering landfills [5]. These partnerships secure enduring business for Harvest while offering value to its partners by way of reduced landfill utilization, reduced environmental degradation, and low-cost renewable energy production.

poster_your_food_scraps_are_not_garbageHarvest Power’s business and operating models clearly align and support one another. The business consumes a readily available, low-cost commodity (food waste) and converts that resource into multiple value streams. The business model is one that is value creative for every stakeholder by reducing net greenhouse gas emissions, lowering total disposal costs, slowing landfill space consumption, and returning unutilized inputs from the agricultural system via renewable energy, soils, mulches, and fertilizers. The operational model supports this business by prioritizing stakeholder engagement, by creating enduring partners who help ensure security of supply, and by developing core competencies in the specialized areas of waste sorting, anaerobic digestion, composting at scale, and resource policy advocacy. The emergence of significant competition or a change in consumer behavior that reduces food wastage is unlikely to materially impact the performance of Harvest Power given their operational strengths and stakeholder partnerships.

But don’t let that stop you from wasting less food.



[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/09/23/americans-throw-out-more-food-than-plastic-paper-metal-or-glass/

[2] http://www.harvestpower.com/home/

[3] https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2012/05/03/state-propose-banning-commercial-food-waste-from-landfills/uXVV6DXZXbf0vW0WfcHsQN/story.html

[4] https://www.americanbiogascouncil.org/biogas_questions.asp

[5] http://www.harvestpower.com/clean-energy/end-to-end-management/






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Camden City School District

Student comments on Harvest Power

  1. Thanks, Sam, for sharing! Really neat business, one that I hadn’t heard of before now. Two quick questions: just to clarify, does Harvest Power essentially replace traditional garbage “landfill haulers” entirely, such that food waste generating businesses should be able to replace their partnership with the typical dumpster/dump truck with Harvest Power entirely? Do you know how the pricing works, if it’s approximately on par? And how do you see this industry evolving to capture the residential market?

    1. Hi Tara,

      Thanks for all your thoughtful questions!

      1) Harvest won’t fully replace the need for the landfill (and landfill haulers), as any business will still have inorganic waste that wouldn’t be fit for compost and digestion. Landfill haulers will need to come by much less frequently though!

      2) I’m not privy to the exact pricing for Harvest, but the national average for landfill hauling fees is $45/ton ($60-90/ton in Mass!) and will continue to rise as available landfill capacity decreases (source: Mass EPA). Based on customer testimonials that refer to cost savings I believe that Harvest charges slightly less per ton. Since Harvest consumes the waste, they don’t have the same pressure to raise prices in the face of decreasing capacity like landfills do.

      3) I think Harvest will continue to target consolidated sources of food waste in the near future (e.g., amusement parks, hotels), but the city of Richmond, BC has instituted a food scraps collection program in which each home has a green bin that is collected weekly and sent to Harvest. Also, a startup called HomeBiogas (http://www.homebiogas.com) is marketing a residential biogas system that produces natural gas and fertilizer from the family’s food waste.

  2. A necessary part of this business plan is to have people buy into it. You will need everyone to start paying a separate service for organic food removal. How do you think Harvest Power can successfully tap into this demographic? Why wouldn’t people just throw organic waste into their own composts, without a need to pay a fee. Do you think Harvest Power runs the risk of not being successful because its business model does not adress the recruitment of organic waste generators?

    1. Hey TommyD,

      Thanks for your questions.

      1.) Harvest currently focuses on business who generate large amounts of food waste (i.e. hospitals, amusement parks, hotels) but one day could expand broadly to residences. Having people throw organic waste into their own composts would be a terrific change versus putting the waste in trash bound for the landfill. What a home compost doesn’t do is capture and utilize the methane that is generated from the compost. That’s the incremental value add that Harvest introduces, or what a home digestor system (http://www.homebiogas.com) offers. Regarding the fee Harvest would charge, homeowners currently pay by $/ton for waste hauling, so you could argue they would pay the regular waste hauler less to haul away trash with no food waste in it, and would pay Harvest to cart off the food waste. The total expenditure on waste hauling doesn’t increase.
      2.) I think you are correct that Harvest’s model would not grow at scale if they don’t actively recruit waste generators as a source of supply into their model. However, I do believe they are actively addressing this by forming partnerships with these entities that include reduced waste hauling costs, waste sorting infrastructure, and messaging to end consumers that the waste separation is taking place.

  3. Sam,

    Very interesting business. Seems like a win for all parties involved. I’m curious why a competitor would not come in at a lower price. Given Harvest prices at a slight discount to normal trash disposal providers yet generates additional return from the power sold and agriculture products produced, I would expect they make a profit above traditional players. This would indicate room for a competitor to undercut them and disrupt the market. Do you think this is the case or do the additional costs associated with producing the power/agriculture products offset the return that these services provide? Maybe the competitors just need to negotiate better prices with Harvest’s customers!

    My other questions is what, if anything, does Harvest do to hedge their energy and agriculture risk? Both of these market prices can fluctuate considerably and I’m curious what impact this has on their business model.

    1. Hi Thomas – thanks for your questions.

      1) Regarding out-pricing competitors on waste collection: I think your point about a competitor coming in and undercutting Harvest on the price of organic waste collection is a real risk in the future. Harvest goes to all the trouble to help an entity like DisneyWorld set up organic waste sorting bins (like HBS!), and then somebody else steps in and outbids them on the collection contract once that food waste is flowin’. Today, however, I believe that Harvest has few if any competitors in this space besides landfill haulers, who see food waste as indistinguishable from trash bound for the landfill rather than as a commodity worth separating from trash. Even so, if Harvest does lose a customer to a new competitor in the space, there is also 35 million tons of food waste generated per year in the U.S. to pursue from other waste generators.

      2) Regarding hedging energy and agricultural risk: the electricity generated by burning methane sourced from the food waste is considered a renewable energy source (as it is otherwise lost to the environment), and so Harvest is able to secure long term power purchase agreements (PPA) with area utilities that lock in the quantity and price per kwh over a sustained time horizon.

      Regarding the agricultural exposure, I think it is fair to say that Harvest doesn’t hedge their soils/fertilizers and are therefore exposed to the greater commodity supercycle (if that’s a real thing). They distribute soils, mulches, and fertilizers via home improvement stores and agricultural coops throughout the nation, so they do diversify their sales across the country, to both home/farm, and both suburban/rural.

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