BioCycle November 2011, Vol. 52, No. 11, p. 19
Training by City of San Diego staff, combined with continued outreach and education of employees by generators, lead to highly effective food waste recovery and recycling.
San Diego, California, businesses wishing to divert the compostable portions of what they landfill have had few choices in the past few years. Until recently, the City of San Diego’s Miramar Greenery Compost Facility (‘the Greenery’) was limited by permit and operational capacity to accept this material from more than a few generators. With its permit and capacity to process pre and postconsumer food waste upgraded, material from selected generators willing to complete San Diego’s obligatory screening process and training program have been accepted. The city is stringent regarding allowable levels of contamination, and methodical in the steps required for generators before they can benefit from the reduced disposal costs of sending the heaviest, and typically most substantial portion of their discards to the Greenery. The program is pragmatic and more logical than it may seem, as it mandates considerable commitment from generators, reduces costs of an operation with thin margins, and ensures the end product meets high enough quality standards to be easily marketed.
Despite the (or because of) stringency, all participants interviewed for this article reported having no problem controlling contamination, at least after the initial phases of implementation. None reported any sort of problem with vectors or odors. All were very happy with the program that San Diego’s Environmental Services Department (ESD) has put together, especially the training, and most save money on avoided disposal costs. Common denominators for success appear to be the simple will to initiate and follow through with sustainability initiatives, intensive and then frequent, ongoing training, and a clear understanding of the benefits of diversion by supervisors and staff alike. “They’ve all had no problem putting on the jersey of the team,” said Ana Lucia de Carvalho, Environmental Specialist for the City of San Diego’s ESD, who leads the training sessions. “They’re doing a great job.”
If there were a common complaint from program participants, it would be that the Greenery currently doesn’t accept any type of disposal serviceware, whether it is paper, biodegradable or compostable. Most generators appear to agree that washable plates, bowls and utensils are best, but aren’t always possible for special events, or are limited under contracts with food service vendors or space constraints to add dishwashing capacity. The City is exploring the compostability of disposables on a pilot basis, and representatives have suggested at some point some of these items may be accepted, depending on results of testing.
Feeding America San Diego
While San Diego County’s largest distributor of donated food may have not reduced its disposal costs after implementing its recycling and sustainability program about a year ago, it certainly helps others do so everyday. “An average-sized supermarket will spend about $10,000 a year just disposing of meat,” says Tim Ney, Chief Operations Officer of Feeding America San Diego. In the nonprofit’s new 44,000 square foot distribution center, pallets of food rise like mini skyscrapers, and staff move crates of donated food into position for volunteers to sort through, some of which will be unpackaged and placed in the food waste bin for composting.
More than 73,000 people receive food each week from Feeding America San Diego. With one in five San Diegans food insecure (“a person who is fearful of where they are going to find their next meal”), an estimated 80 million pounds of food is needed annually to provide meals, according to the “Map the Meal Gap” study by Feeding America combined with USDA and US Census information in 2009.
With some 8,000 volunteers and access to enough food to meet about one quarter of San Diego County’s food insecure, Feeding America is an important hub, critical to both hunger and resource management in the region. The organization will distribute over 20 million pounds of food in 2011, five million of which are fresh fruits and vegetables collected as part of its Fresh Rescue program through Albertson’s and Ralphs grocery stores. “That’s 2,500 tons we know would have gone to the landfill,” says Ney. In addition, Feeding America San Diego will distribute six million pounds of produce as they are focused on becoming a “Nutrition Bank” and providing healthy food to the community. It recently procured new cold storage space. About 4 tons/week of food that can’t be distributed goes to the Miramar Greenery for composting. “Food safety is paramount,” he notes. “But we’re also very serious about our composting and recycling programs.”
Designated toters for food waste are tipped into a 25 cubic yard compactor, which is hauled about every ten days. As is true for all generators sending food scraps to the Greenery, Feeding America San Diego received training and posters from the City. Ney has done constant outreach since to help maximize diversion and minimize contamination. An important element has been the energy going towards “getting the whole staff in the right mindset to separate materials, and maintaining continuity in that mindset to ensure recycling happens efficiently,” he says. “But the success of the program can be attributed to the City’s involvement and training.”
San Diego State University
San Diego State University (SDSU) began food scrap diversion in 2006, and the program has gradually expanded from diverting about 75 tons annually of preconsumer material from one facility (The Dining Room at Cuicacalli Suites), to some 260 tons/year captured from all of its five largest dining facilities. “The City of San Diego was excellent at getting us started, and did a great job at training,” says Sustainability Coordinator Steve Lincoln, who helped the program get underway five years ago. The campus only has space for one compactor, so 32 gallon toters used to collect food scraps from kitchen prep areas must be transported to it daily. Two student employees on work study load and move eight full toters of food scraps from Cuicacalli and 18 from other kitchens using a 14-ft. stake bed truck with a lift gate. An electric tipper is used to empty material into the compactor, as toters can weigh 150 pounds or more. Collection on campus occurs seven days a week, and takes two hours a day to complete. The compactor is pulled to the Greenery once a week.
Contamination is vastly minimized or eliminated through ongoing training and education from supervisors. Posters in kitchens and labels on containers also help, but consistent toter checking and outreach to employees is what prevents loads from being contaminated or rejected. The City’s zero tolerance for contamination has set this high standard, and compliance has been relatively easy, due in part to outreach and part to separating only kitchen prep material. Toter handlers also have another incentive. There is no electric tipper at the garbage compactor, so if a 150-pound toter of food scraps is contaminated, it would be very difficult to empty it into the unit.
The campus also has more than 20 restaurants and markets. “There’s food waste generated everywhere on campus,” explains Lincoln. Unfortunately, none of that material makes it to the Greenery, largely due to the fact that some of those venues use compostable, biodegradable or paper service ware that is not accepted at the composting facility. While Lincoln would like to see increased use of washable service ware so that food waste from these sites can be diverted – which would require expansion of dishwashing infrastructure – the reality is that logistics of moving around toters is a limiting factor, as well as finding room for a second, or larger compactor. Since the university was founded 115 years ago, its 283 acres have been built out.
However, greater diversion of food scraps and service ware remains a priority to Lincoln and some of the sustainability-oriented campus organizations he works with. A pilot program by Green Campus Interns, for example, is centered around capturing food waste from disposable bowls and plates. Redirecting this material requires a student volunteer to stand at a garbage bin at one of the fast food restaurants on campus and have diners scrape food off their plates into a designated bin. Contamination is minimized, food scraps are diverted, but the efficiency of this method has yet to be proven well enough to include this material with preconsumer food going to the Greenery.
Food waste diversion had humble beginnings at Petco Park – home of Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres – when 60 tons of material were diverted from its main kitchen in 2005. Full rollout to include all food service areas and concession stands throughout the ballpark occurred in 2007, when annual diversion increased a full 50 percent to 92 tons of preconsumer food waste. Captured tonnages have been higher than that every year since, and 2011, at 160 tons, will be Petco’s best year for keeping its compostables out of the landfill. This equates to about two tons from each home game. Disposal cost savings have exceeded $75,000 to date.
Contractors handling management of concessions and janitorial services had to be trained to make the program work, as they generate the preconsumer food waste and are responsible for moving material to the trash area. Supervisors and managers of Petco Park’s concession group, DNC Sportservice, were trained first, and provided with the materials to pass that training down to their staff. Posters were hung in all food service areas and food scrap diversion training became a part of the daily orientation for the concession volunteer groups. The janitorial group, Aramark, was also trained.
Rolling 32-gallon green toters, clearly marked “food waste,” are placed in every single food service stand (50 in total) and the one main food preparation kitchen that exists in the ballpark. Most of the portable locations (e.g., a hotdog cart) share with a permanent concession stand. When full, a designated employee delivers the bin to the compactor in the trash sorting area, where a designated operator from the Aramark janitorial team runs the compactor. The employee then takes the bin to the rinse room where a DNC Sportservice operator rinses it, and the toter is returned to the concession stand or kitchen for the next game.
The designated Aramark employee that operates the compactor is also manning the trash sorting area throughout the game. The Sportservice employee that mans the washroom has other responsibilities during a game. At a certain point in the game when green bins are expected to start arriving at the washroom, he then stations himself there until the last of the green bins have come through for rinsing. Both the Aramark and Sportservice employees are seasonal and part-time.
Food scraps remaining in the green bins are also collected at the toter rinse out station (in a strainer) to ensure no food scraps go to waste. About 90 percent of the food waste DNC Sportservice has control of is estimated to be captured. The food waste compactor is hauled to the Greenery every other game (weighing 4 tons on average).
“The Padres continue to look for opportunities to create or add sustainable best practices as part of its overall building management,” says Alina Talbott, Assistant General Manager with Hines, Petco’s development and facility management contractor. “We strive to reduce waste everywhere and any way we can and continuously seek out new and inventive ways to recycle or repurpose items from our waste stream.” Under Talbott’s lead, the 42,000 seat Petco Park diverts commingled recyclables (paper, plastic, aluminum, glass), cardboard, plastic wrapping/bags, eWaste, cooking oil, wood pallets, Styrofoam, as well as employee-generated items such as compact fluorescents, wine corks, printer cartridges, cell phones, batteries and wire hangers.
About 65 tons/year of grass clippings are collected separately in a roll-off and hauled to the Greenery for composting. The ballpark has also increased its focus on reducing food waste at its source, and spoilage is tracked on a per location basis every game. After numbers are analyzed, preparation needs are determined, and each location is given a prep sheet for every game based on attendance. Edible food goes to the San Diego Food Bank, with 2.5 tons of primarily fruits, vegetables, popcorn and prewrapped salads delivered in 2011.
“The City of San Diego Environmental Services Department has assisted Petco Park by providing training to concession management staff and was helpful in creating signage for consistent messaging throughout the facility,” Talbott says. “They also provided on-site evaluations during games at times to help us understand how we can streamline the process and limit contamination issues. In the last few years we’ve had no trouble controlling contamination.”
HILTON SAN DIEGO BAYFRONT
It took the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel just a month to begin its food scrap program in 2010 and already, most pre and postconsumer food waste generated throughout the hotel is being diverted. Managers of the 30-story building with 1,190 guest rooms and 30 suites wanted to be the first hotel in San Diego to compost food, and after training from the City of San Diego, they hit the ground running.
While Hilton has corporate-wide sustainability initiatives with basic guidelines, each hotel in the chain can decide what works best for them. Hilton Bayfront has implemented numerous programs, including comprehensive materials recycling, a sustainable purchasing policy, eliminating use of polystyrene, and housekeeping staff reducing waste by taking unused soaps and shampoos to a local orphanage, among many others.
Chefs and kitchen staff utilize meal portioning, menu management and group dining demand analysis to reduce food waste. These source reduction methods, in combination with others such as feeding employees leftovers, have greatly minimized food waste from the 1,500 to 2,500 meals prepared and served a day. A formal “Food Donation Policy” also exists and occasionally, but not often, there is an edible portion that is sent to the food bank. Most of what’s generated, an average of three tons a week, is sent to the Greenery for composting. This represents a 20 percent increase in diversion of food scraps since the program first began.
“Ana Carvalho from ESD did an excellent job training about 200 team members and contractors,” says Keith McDonald, Executive Steward in charge of the program. “Initially it was tricky keeping the contamination levels down, but now we have it under control.” Food scraps are collected in toters and tipped into a compactor (using an electric tipper), which is collected weekly. The hotel’s janitorial contractor moves toters, and keeps a keen eye on contamination. This includes daily walkthroughs checking bins, ongoing outreach led by supervisors, and a final inspection of the material after it is tipped into the compactor – allowing a final chance to remove something that has eluded other methods. “The night crew will actually pull contaminants such as packaging out of the compactor after each toter is tipped, which has been the most important addition to our contamination removal program,” says McDonald. “This program has made employees much more aware of what ends up in the bins, and has prevented the loss of silverware we’ve had in the past. Everybody’s bought into the idea, understands it importance, and feels good about their efforts.”
SEAWORLD SAN DIEGO
SeaWorld San Diego has been diverting a portion of its food waste for more than ten years. An audit identified food as one of the park’s largest waste stream components. Initially the park’s food prep material was commingled with its yard trimmings. In 2006, after training conducted by the City, the park began using a separate, dedicated compactor for food waste and putting yard trimmings in a 40-cubic-yard (cy) roll-off. “When Ana Carvalho did training for catering staff and the culinary management team, connecting food scrap collection to sustainable farming, our employees related well to that,” says Shari Sehlhorst, the park’s environmental manager.
The ramped-up program began to capture more compostables, and has increased every year. Currently SeaWorld San Diego averages about five tons/week of prep and kitchen leftover such as produce trimmings, breads, cooked meats, pasta and pastries.
Food scraps are collected from every culinary facility and initially placed in one of seven locked 3-cy dumpsters. Later the park’s culinary team transports these dumpsters to a dedicated food waste dumpster which is hauled weekly, and as much as twice a week during the busier summer months.
Some of the park’s animals get some leftovers, or “enrichments treats” as the trainers call them. Roast beef bones go to polar bears, birds get some vegetative scraps, and sea turtles get lettuce. The zoological and culinary teams work together to identify opportunities that will benefit both the animals and the park’s sustainability initiatives. These kinds of opportunities, as well as SeaWorld’s food waste and landscape trimmings diversion programs, also save money in avoided disposal fees.
ALBERTSON’S GROCERY STORES
Currently 15 Albertson’s Grocery Stores, a division of grocery giant Supervalu, send food waste to the Greenery. If Rick Crandall had has way, all 43 Albertson’s stores in the county would be sending material there. Crandall is the high-energy Director of Sustainability for the Southern California Division, responsible for 248 stores, over 18,000 associates and two distribution centers. His involvement on the Supervalu Enterprise Environmental Steering Committee helps craft the sustainability initiatives of over 1,100 stores in 38 states, including 30 distribution centers, and the first two zero waste supermarkets in the U.S., piloted in 2010 in Santa Barbara, California.
“We plan to phase them in,” says Crandall of the San Diego County stores currently not diverting compostables to the Greenery. But all 43 stores, including the 15 sending food to the Greenery (and also edible food as part of Feeding America San Diego’s “Fresh Rescue” program), have broader diversion goals. “They’ll all be at or close to Zero Waste by March 2012, or sometime that month,” he notes, adding that there is a standard program, and “if stores follow minimum guidelines, they will meet the company’s 90 percent reduction target very easily.” While November and December are too busy for the grocery business to implement programs, audits are planned to see how stores are doing.
Stores currently on the composting program began diverting organics in August 2011. They each average about 10 tons/month/store, and follow the same protocol. Every area in the store that generates food waste has a 65-gallon toter that goes into a cooler at night. Coolers are used in various sections of the markets, and are kept at a temperature under 40ºF. This prevents material from breaking down, becoming odorous or having to be left outdoors. Toters filled with food and floral scraps are wheeled out back on the day of collection and tipped into an automated front loader three times a week by Albertson’s hauler. This type of collection is preferred, as material never sits for more than a couple of days and it only has to be handled once before it’s tipped.
Everything but uncooked meat, bones and other scraps typically separated for rendering is placed in toters destined for the Greenery. Rendering is handled by a separate vendor, although Crandall’s wish list includes the ability to put this material, as well as soiled cardboard, into the food waste bin, as is allowed at his Nevada stores. Aside from this aspect he’s happy with the program, and has been pleased with the City’s training and enthusiasm and help to get the program rolled out.
Crandall and Albertson’s have a clear vision of their sustainability goals and a systematic approach. “We have attacked the largest contributors in weight and volume first,” says Crandall. “Programs have been very metric driven.” Their methods appear to be working, and as more stores come online, they may very well set the standard for grocery store resource management.
Rich Flammer of Hidden Resources is a composting consultant and Contributing Editor to BioCycle.