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When Elizabeth Coulombe and Valérie Laliberté teamed-up as design students to create a device for an assignment, they decided to address their shared frustration over food waste.
“We wanted to target the management of food waste at home because, here in Quebec, we don’t have municipal collection to manage our food waste,” Coulombe explains. “When we were in our apartments at the University of Laval, we didn’t have space to compost.
“And we found there were a lot of people like us that didn’t have a solution to manage food waste.”
According to Coulombe, food waste in landfills is responsible for six per cent of total emissions of greenhouse gases. Through their assignment, the duo wanted to see that number reduced — without having to rely on the hands-on process of composting.
“Compost is really a beautiful solution,” Coulombe says of the process of breaking down organic materials into fertilizer. “But it’s not for all people.
“We want to do our part for the environment, but we don’t want to smell odors at home. We don’t want to have flies at home. We want to have something simple that we can just do it in our day-to-day and not have to learn a lot of stuff and understand composting.”
Speaking from her home in Quebec City, Coulombe recalls how she and Laliberté were eager to see their device tackle food waste in a way that was convenient, odour-free, could be carried out no matter the time of year regardless of weather — and could be done at home.
“We wanted to create something that was easy for everyone,” she says.
Tero was the result.
The “innovative household appliance” turns most food waste into fertilizer in three-to-eight hours through a process of grinding and dehydration. A few foods, such as large bones and hard pits from certain fruits, are included on the device’s no-go list.
“It really depends on the type of food waste that you put in,” Coulombe explains of the range of time from start to finished fertilizer. The fertilizer byproduct can be used for home gardens, potted or outdoor plants or a lawn, she says.
With a four-liter dishwasher safe container capacity for scraps, the device is designed to be compact enough to fit on a kitchen countertop and has a noise output during the composting process of less than 60 decibels.
A filter featuring activated carbon helps to eliminate the odors commonly associated with food waste and the composting process, according to Coulombe.
The Tero devices — the Tero and the Wi-Fi-enabled Tero Plus — are priced from $595 to $695 and have a one-year warranty. Each device comes with an anti-odor filter refill packet filled with activated carbon. The filters should be replaced about four times per year, according to Coulombe, depending on device usage.
“It depends on how much you use it and how big your family is,” she explains of the filter change. “But it’s approximately every three-to-four months.”
While Coulombe admits Tero originally started as a university project, she says their idea for the home appliance was met with so much interest that they decided to explore the possibility of bringing their food-to-fertilizer device to market.
After more than four years of research and development, along with a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $1.7 million, the device is now available to Canadian shoppers.
“It has been a big adventure, because it was really more complicated than we thought during the start of the project. There’s not a lot of companies in Canada that are doing this kind of thing,” Coulombe says of the recent release of Tero into the market. “We are very proud.”
The device, Coulombe says, is made locally in Quebec City. It was an important element of the product story for the Tero team.
“For us it was essential, for the environmental impact, but also to keep the best quality of the product,” she says. “And, because it is a new product, we wanted to be close so that we could react rapidly if we had to.”
This local approach also helped the development process during COVID-19, as the Tero team was able to maintain regular contact with the manufacturer, Coulombe says, also noting the proximity furthered their ambition of creating the product with as little carbon footprint as possible.
“It was really important to us to create a product that was not going to create more waste,” Coulombe says. “It had to be durable and efficient — that was our criteria.”
While the Tero device is designed to be a residential tool for eliminating food waste, Coulombe says her team has been in talks with local businesses to explore the idea of incorporating the composting machine into in-office kitchen offerings.
“It’s a market that we’re interested in,” Coulombe says, noting the device is set to be trailed in small office spaces in the near future.
With the Tero now available, the company’s next steps are to further explore the possibilities of turning food into fertilizer.
“We want to create other products to respond to all the needs,” Coulombe says. “We want to be the reference of the management of food waste in the market.”