With her company Ambrosia, Amanda Weeks, Co-Founder and CEO, has worked to build a scalable solution for food waste recycling. Ambrosia uses biological and mechanical processes to recover water from food waste and create value byproducts. Earlier this year, the company launched Veles, the world’s first closed-loop household cleaner derived from food waste.
As a result of her innovative approach to both waste management and leadership, Weeks was named a Waste360 40 Under 40 recipient. She spoke with Waste360 about why she founded Ambrosia, how they are tackling food waste, and the company’s recent acquisition by Recycle Track Systems.
Waste360: What motivated you to start your company, and what problem were you trying to address?
Amanda Weeks: I started my company in 2014, and I had spent several years getting interested in sustainability issues around food. I sort of naturally gravitated towards food waste at a time when it was becoming a topic that was getting more attention. At the end of 2013, New York City passed the law to mandate organic waste recycling. I am a native New Yorker, I grew up in Staten Island, near the Fresh Kills Landfill, which used to be the biggest landfill in the world. It seemed like the stars were aligning, and this seemed like the thing that I should work on.
I had a background in having various business roles. I spent my first year digging into the market and the problem, looking at food waste as it relates to cities, and the environment, and the trucking that goes into waste management, particularly food waste. Then, also looking at the other solutions that were available, which at the time were primarily composting and anaerobic digestion. I felt that there was space in the market for a different kind of approach to food waste recycling.
We have reverse engineered our process for food waste recycling with the consideration that it has to be able to operate indoors; it can’t smell; and it has to be able to be inside of a city so that it can cut down on truck traffic. It has to be able to operate efficiently, and not take up too much space.
Also, the big challenge in the waste industry, at large, is the commodities market and the end market. With plastic, and with gas, you have fluctuations in markets, and so we were looking at how we could use food waste to make products that aren’t subject to that same kind of volatility. We started really focusing on consumer products and moving away from the traditional mode of waste management and recycling.
Waste360: How does your service work, and why is it an effective solution?
Amanda Weeks: We really started out focusing on the first problem, which was scalable food waste recycling. We spent several years optimizing and scaling up a process that sterilizes and stabilizes food waste through a combined biological and mechanical process. As we were developing that system, we were really focused on being able to handle mixed food waste that is pre- and post-consumer. It was very important to us that we were able to take meat, and dairy, and different things that are sometimes rejected at other organic waste facilities. We were trying to create a blunt force tool to be able to handle food waste as it exists in its mixed, unpredictable fashion.
From there, once we had developed our core process, we started further examining our outputs. We started working on product development techniques and further processing steps to actually convert or isolate the components of food waste that we had separated from our process into new products.
For example, this year, we launched our first product, which is a household cleaner. We made a multi-purpose cleaning product that is 97 percent derived from food waste, called Veles. It’s like your everyday, all-purpose cleaner. It’s been tested over several years before we launched, against multiple different types of surface contamination, on multiple surfaces, and it performs really well.
Waste360: Why, in your opinion, do you think food waste should be an issue that more companies tackle? What is the scope of the food waste issue?
Amanda Weeks: According to the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], food waste is the single largest component of landfills, and is also primarily responsible for the methane generation that comes from landfills, which are the third largest methane contributor in the U.S.
Another thing is that food waste is so volatile because it’s organic and because it has very high water content. Food waste, on average has 75 percent water. We are trucking around, multiple states away, this water, basically. The impact of the wear and tear on the vehicles, the trucking emissions, [the waste] going to landfill—it’s a pretty major contributor to the issues that we have in our waste system today.
There are many other materials that are a huge problem right now, but on the other hand, food waste has the most opportunity. Food waste has so many people looking at and working on different points of food waste and food loss throughout the food cycle that I think you could make a huge impact by tackling [it]. There are so many things you can do with it—it really is a valuable resource.
Waste360: Can you now talk about the acquisition by RTS?
Amanda Weeks: RTS has been a partner of ours for several years. We were partnering with them as our food waste source. They had their commercial customers they were collecting food waste from, and they would bring it to our demo facility. We have been working very closely with them for several years, and myself and their CEO, I think, have a lot of the same opinions and ideas about the waste industry and the circular economy. In this COVID landscape, as we see all of the impacts that COVID is having on the waste industry, we felt that it would be beneficial to combine together to come up with more solutions for the waste industry as a whole.
Waste360: So, then what is next for you?
Amanda Weeks: I am part of RTS now. I will be continuing my work at RTS, both on Ambrosia and Veles, and the roadmap that we were already on, as well as developing new products and services within RTS.
Waste360: Why did you decide to name your company Ambrosia?
Amanda Weeks: Ambrosia is the food and drink of ancient gods that made them immortal. Our intention was to evoke immortality and circularity as food. Then, all of our products, starting with Veles, would be named for different ancient gods. Veles is an ancient shape-shifting god of water, earth, the underworld and magic that is made circular by food waste.