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by Stephen Waltz, LEED AP
Associate/Project Manager
Ft. Lauderdale Office

My father grew up on a farm and I remember seeing his devotion to our garden as I was growing up. We had a compost pile in our backyard about the size of a small car. Each fall the leaves from our oversized yard became the base for the compost pile and we had a large can in the kitchen that scraps were thrown into and sent out to the compost pile. I remember wondering why snow never accumulated on it until my father explained the process and showed me by sticking a rod in it and letting me feel the heat it created.

Now as composting is the newest program to complement a sustainability program that includes reducing, reusing and recycling, I remember the lessons of my youth.  The most important issues are watching what you put into the compost pile and what you are going to do with all the compostable matter you collect – after all, not everyone can have a compost pile the size of a small car.

You can compost pretty much anything that you can eat or use in cooking. The best compostable items are vegetables and fruits; they decay or decompose the quickest. Meats, fish and oily foods like cheese or salad dressings take longer to compost and can create problems with odors and attracting pest.

Composting has its challenges now, as we are really in the early stages of this trend.  You read numerous success stories that are mostly available on the west and east coast, but the reality is that there is limited commercial composting available. Commercial haulers have not really expanded to providing it, and many local programs are small by proportion.

As an operator it requires a true commitment and the ability to work with programs that are still in the testing and development stages. Your involvement requires a small expense to get started. You will need to buy some type of trash containers (32 Gallon) with lids to store the compostable materials. Once you have collected the compostable waste, the transportation to the site may be your responsibility and that is probably the biggest challenge.

One of the benefits of composting programs is that operators see what food is being thrown away and why. Was too much ordered and it spoiled? Was too much prepared? Are the prep people trimming vegetables more than is required? When an evaluation of the compostable items is examined, it can offer valuable information that commonly results in taking another look, reducing and creating savings in purchases.

Large facilities like college or corporate campuses may have the space to compost their own materials, thereby reducing the waste hauling charges.  They can then have the grounds maintenance department use the resulting product in their programs, saving money on that aspect of their business as well.  Meeting with your staff and explaining the goals of your program can generate a lot of excitement. Some have even held competitions to measure the success. Just by purchasing a scale you can have a competition as to who can collect the most by simply weighing their containers.

With the popularity of sustainability and the publicity it has created, composting in commercial foodservice facilities will only be hindered by our creativity in dealing with the compostable material.

A great example of a successful composting program is at the University of New Hampshire. They have had a program going since 2003 and peaked in 2005 by composting 268,000 Lbs of food waste that was generated from all their foodservice outlets. They are collecting the waste from all of their kitchen prep areas (pre-consumer waste) and also collecting the food waste at the end of meals (post-consumer waste). There program is very well thought out and they are utilizing many of the latest techniques including grinding and pulping the food waste to reduce the volume. The University has a 350 acre agronomy research facility that is the site for their composting. They sell the compost rich soil at local stores and also sell directly from their own facility.

In the Baltimore/Washington area there are 2 firms that are offering composting to restaurants, grocery stores, institutions and commercial properties. They have great websites with lots of useful information.

EnviRelation, LLC:  www.envirelation.com

Waste Neutral:   www.wasteneutralgroup.com

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