Making It Work: Bin tech helps kitchens scale down on waste

Positive Carbon’s system uses bin scales and cameras to monitor food waste so that hotels and restaurants can change orders and save cash

21st January, 2021
Making It Work: Bin tech helps kitchens scale down on waste
Mark and Aisling Kirwan set up Positive Carbon in early 2020 to develop technology that would help to cut down on food waste. Picture: Fergal Phillips

The hospitality sector is once again at a standstill, but that hasn’t stopped the founders of Positive Carbon forging ahead with plans to ready their technology for hotels and restaurants when they reopen.

Aisling and Mark Kirwan set up the business in early 2020 to develop technology that would help to cut down on food waste in hospitality.

Their system combines bin-mounted scales and cameras which track and record exactly how much of each individual food item goes to waste in a kitchen each day.

“It automatically monitors food waste and generates reports so kitchens can change their orders and save money,” Mark said.

“It’s really specific. We had one kitchen trialling the platform that was throwing out between 10kg and 11kg of beets every Wednesday. Just by changing that one purchasing order, they’re already saving money.”

Positive Carbon can be used in any commercial kitchen in hospitality, education or healthcare, for example, but the start-up’s first port of call will be hotels in Ireland.

The company signed up the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Co Dublin, as its first customer before Christmas and is in talks with four more premises in the capital.

“I think one of the biggest lessons we’re learning from the customer point of view is not to be afraid to get in touch with hotels and tell them about what we’re doing,” Aisling Kirwan said.

“In hospitality, general managers are incredibly busy people. They’ve had more time over the last year than they might normally have, but even when they’ve been open, they have been incredibly generous with their time. That really gives you a boost as a start-up.”

The couple came up with the idea for Positive Carbon on foot of their experience working together at FoodCloud, a social enterprise that redistributes surplus food in the retail sector to charities and community groups.

Both had built up skills during their time at FoodCloud – Aisling in operations and customer service, and Mark in automation and product development – which they are now using to ready the business for the market.

“We’re both incredibly passionate about the environment and sustainability, but it was through our experience with FoodCloud that we became aware of food waste,” Aisling said.

“FoodCloud has found a really clever way to reroute food waste in retail. We started thinking about what we could do to address the same problem in hospitality.”

Mark added: “Our primary driver is environmental. One third of all food that’s produced for human consumption is wasted and that waste contributes needlessly to greenhouse gas emissions.

“For hotels, it is cash-driven. They know they waste money on food, but they have neither the time nor the resources to track exactly what’s going to waste. That’s where our system comes in. It’s automated. It doesn’t create any work for them.”

Positive Carbon is a client of Enterprise Ireland, the state agency, and topped the Best New Start category at the Connacht and Leinster Regional Final of the InterTradeIreland Seedcorn Investor Readiness Competition last November.

Aisling Kirwan is one of 15 participants currently taking part in the Innovate business accelerator programme run by Dublin Business Innovation Centre.

Each participant has already secured €50,000 from the Competitive Start Fund run by Enterprise Ireland. Innovate will run for 12 weeks, offering online advice, mentoring and peer network support to participants.

“Innovate is a really great way to talk about the different trials and tribulations you face as a female founder,” Aisling said.

“There is already a lot of collaboration between the group. It’s lovely to be able to share your experiences with people in the same position.”

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