July 1, 2004 | General

Collection And Diversion Of Food Residuals In Southwest Florida

BioCycle July 2004, Vol. 45, No. 7, p. 32
Five-month project yields data on environmental impacts, diversion, contamination, compostable feedstocks, and costs from trials at grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals and produce distributors.
Cory Jamieson, Jesse White, Monica Ozores-Hampton, Jean Nutter and Bernadette Thavarajah

Sarasota County conducted a food residuals diversion, collection and composting project in cooperation with local businesses and institutions to analyze the feasibility of source separation in Southwest Florida. The pilot was done under a Florida Department of Environmental Protection Innovative Recycling Grant. “Sarasota County is progressive enough to experiment with less developed segments of the waste stream,” says Jean Nutter, the county’s project manager. Tipping fees of over $65/ton also helped to stimulate the validity of the recycling project.
The diversion and collection segment of the project targeted a variety of companies and institutions in Venice, a small town of approximately 20,000 people along the Gulf Coast in Sarasota County. Venice generates a large amount of food residuals as it is primarily a retirement community with little industry and a large service sector.
The composting facility size was small, temporary and research oriented so a few, but very different, waste generators were the center of the collection and diversion programs. These included Publix Supermarkets, Bon-Secours Hospital, All Faiths Food Bank, Chiquita Distributing, Left Coast Seafood, and Buddy Freddy’s Country Buffet, to name a few.
A six stage process was conducted to set up the diversion program: 1) The project team contacted business owners and managers to discuss the goals of the project and the possibility of utilizing the food residuals generated at the location. 2) The project team scheduled a site visit at each location that agreed to participate, assessing the waste stream, employees, facility layout, and general attitudes and potential of the establishment. 3) The project team distributed materials. These included training manuals and signs, Rubbermaid waste bins, BioBag compostable trash bags and dumpsters through Venice. 4) The project team trained employees on the basics of composting, compostable materials, and separation/disposal methods. 5) Businesses began separating their wastes after the training day. 6) The project team supplied materials upon request and returned periodically to answer questions and address problems.
This format allowed the project team to get acquainted with the locations and adequately address the specific needs of each generator. Managers and supervisors also had open lines of communication with the project team to receive feedback and address problems.
Three general types of facilities were included in the program: Grocers (3); Restaurants (3); and Produce Distributors (2). Different methods of collection were employed at each location as their production and disposal methods differed. Venice Public Works dedicated a collection truck scheduled after its normal route to collect materials biweekly from the participants in the program.
Wastes varied between the generator locations both in nutrient composition and in potential for foreign materials. The project team attempted to minimize contamination risks by addressing foreign material and potentially problematic feedstocks such as meats during the training sessions.
Illegal dumping into compost-designated dumpsters was a concern. This presented the problem of noncompostable or potentially hazardous materials contaminating feedstocks. This was addressed through clear labeling of dumpsters, and in one case, a special security dumpster with locking capability and warnings painted on it as a deterrent.
Collection of materials began in May 2003, after the diversion program, training and support materials were put into place. This continued through the first half of September, 2003.
“It is estimated that organics comprise between 80 to 90 percent of the waste generated at a grocery store,” says Bernadette Thavarajah, solid waste manager for Publix.
Groceries were integrated into the program on a departmental basis. Produce and bakery departments were chosen to participate in the program because of the low risk of contaminants and the relatively benign nature of these feedstocks from an odor and pathogen management perspective.
The process established at the produce department was separation of spoiled produce and trimmings from fruits and vegetables preparations. This differed very little from traditional disposal methods in that a compost-designated bin was used instead of the traditional garbage can. Each grocery store has a trash chute in the back area that leads to a 30-yard compactor attached through the wall. All food residuals diverted during the project were diverted from these compactors to the designated compost dumpsters.
The bakery employees had to first remove packaging (primarily plastic, foil and polystyrene (Styrofoam), which contributed to increased labor over traditional commingled disposal.
The project was small, but total diversion from grocery stores was 15.6 tons of food residuals.
“The diversion of organics resulted in less trash to the compactor. Since we pay for disposal at the landfill based on the weight of the MSW/ garbage, the disposal fees were less. We could also consider reducing the number of times that the compactor is pulled for additional savings,” explains Thavarajah.
Surveys were taken with each individual department under the supervision of the project team. The project team interviewed individual employees and filled out the survey form throughout the interview. This allowed direct and accurate feedback, while also allowing the project team to clarify certain comments, ideas or problems. The survey results for the grocers indicated that feelings were mixed about the methods used during the program. The most common comments were: Recycling is important and food should not be thrown away; Signs and training materials worked well; Bags worked well as liners but did not hold weight; Bins worked well for disposal but were often too big to dump easily; Boxes and rolling carts worked well as an alternate method; Separation of plastics in bakery departments was time consuming; Disposing of materials outside was more work than using the trash chute; and If some of the methods were altered, continued participation would be more likely.
Enthusiasm and flexibility of employees was directly correlated with diversion volumes. For example, Store 3 showed the most success in diverting food from the compactor. They also gave the most positive feedback about the program. When faced with the challenge of dumping heavy bins, they modified their collection to incorporate wheeled carts and waxed cardboard boxes. Other locations lost interest and did not innovate other methods. Even when the project team worked directly alongside employees, some were still not willing to try new methods.
Initially a traditional buffet restaurant and seafood restaurant were incorporated into the program. These were selected as representative of the types of restaurants in the Venice area while at the same time providing a good space in which to supply bins and dumpsters without significant modification to the current configuration. The buffet restaurant had a capacity of approximately 400 people and the seafood restaurant over 200 people. Business varies seasonally and weekly at both locations with higher patronage observed over the winter season and on weekends. During the course of the project, the buffet restaurant was disposing of waste in an eight-yard dumpster that was emptied four times a week while the seafood restaurant was using a six-yard dumpster emptied once a week.
Both locations were supplied with bins, bags, and a two-yard dumpster for disposal. They were supplied signage as well for placement on bins, dumpsters and walls. Spanish speaking employees are common in Florida and many are not fluent in English. Therefore the project team supplied bilingual illustrated signs for placement at some workstations as well.
Restaurants differed from grocers in three important ways: Postconsumer food residuals recycled; Smaller staff/less turnover; and Quick pace.
In both restaurants, bins were supplied and used at two types of locations: food preparation and scrap disposal. The food preparation areas changed little between traditional methods and the composting program. This is because bins in this area were already designated preparation waste, which is primarily compostable organic matter, with little other types of waste being disposed. Scrap disposal areas however, added the compost bin for food scraps and retained the other bin for traditional refuse. This required more space at the disposal area and required extra effort from the busing and wait staff. The same is true of dumpster areas, as employees had to make two runs to dispose of waste in the dumpsters, and the space at the dumpster area had to accommodate the extra 2-yard dumpster.
Unfortunately, the buffet restaurant closed shortly after initiating the program and so limited amounts of waste and data were collected from that location. However, the project team worked closely with their staff during the training and setup phases and they provided useful feedback for the program.
Restaurant food residuals are estimated at 3.5 tons diverted over the course of the program. This led to a savings of approximately $220 in hauling costs. This cost was avoided because the grant funded the collections. The costs without this compensation would have been comparable to normal waste collection.
The restaurant surveys differed in some ways from the grocer’s, reflecting the differences in operation noted above. They sometimes had difficulty separating table wastes during busy hours. Though the separation of wastes took only a second or two, this had the potential to slow traffic in some areas. Higher rates of disposal also led to some contamination of plastics, particularly small items such as straws and creamer cups. Restaurant employees also noted that compostable bags were too thin, though most said they would continue participating in the program without modification.
The hospital is a 342-bed full service health care facility with a cafeteria. The project collected both preparatory wastes and table scraps from the cafeteria. Wastes from the rooms were not collected due to constraints in separation and concerns over pathogens. However, the cafeteria kitchen does prepare the meals for the rooms and so the preconsumer waste was diverted into the program.
The disposal configuration was slightly different from other locations, as the kitchen was larger and the disposal method was more straightforward than other restaurants. The hospital provided its own bin, which was a simple 50-gallon garbage can on a wheeled base. The project team provided compostable bags and signs. Prep and disposal stations around the kitchen filled smaller waste containers (~30gal) and these were brought to the centralized container. The compostable bags were used in both the large centralized container and the smaller peripheral bins. Signs were placed at prep stations and disposal areas.
The hospital was equipped with a dock on the east end of the building. Dumpsters were located there and the employees charged with emptying the compost bins took materials out to this location. When full, the bin was wheeled out to the dumping area and simply tipped into the opened dumpster. This activity differed significantly from other locations, where employees had to lift materials into the dumpsters.
This difference was reflected in the survey results. The personnel were concerned about pick up frequency and pathogens/vectors. They would like a program with triweekly pick up to reduce vector and odor concerns. Problems with bags were similar to restaurants, though this is likely due to improper sizes and overfilling of containers. They experienced some contamination issues with others in the kitchen using the food container as a trash can.
Total waste estimated from the hospital over the course of the diversion program is 5.2 tons, a savings of $330.
The produce distributors required the least amount of preparation in order to develop a successful program. Separation and disposal methods were not required at the generator locations as the material was delivered in bulk, either directly to the facility by the generator itself, or picked up and delivered by the project team.
When delivered by the generator, the material arrived in a refrigerated box truck. Food residuals were still packaged for shipping in boxes on pallets, which were offloaded to the facility using a pallet jack and hydraulic tailgate. When collected by the project team, the materials arrived in a dumping bed truck or open trailer. In both cases, material was off-loaded by hand.
A total of 14.6 tons of food residuals were collected from produce distributors. This equals a savings of $930. There is no difference in cost for distributors between bringing materials to a landfill or composting facility.
Collection of materials began in May 2003, after the diversion program, training and support materials were put into place. This continued through the first half of September, 2003. Vegetative materials composed over 70 percent of the materials collected, with breads, pasta, and other starchy foods making up another 26 percent. The rest was meat scraps, bones, shells, and dairy products.
Grocers and produce generators contributed the most material to the pilot facility. Produce distributors were 100 percent fruits and vegetables, while the grocers were about 60 percent fruits and vegetables by weight, the rest being breads.
The restaurants and hospital contributed the only meats collected during the program. They were instructed not to include this material, but meats were frequently deposited in the compost bins regardless of recommendations and signage.
Differences in feedstock composition were found primarily in C:N ratio with less variability in other chemical and physical characteristics. The feedstock’s varied primarily in nitrogen content and conductivity, with the seafood restaurant showing the greatest divergence from the other two. The major differences were found in the seafood restaurant’s lower C:N ratio (7.8), while the grocer’s produce was higher (33.3). A composite of all three showed a med-low C:N ratio (18.4).
Food residuals generator training and enthusiasm is the key to implementing a successful food residuals collection and diversion program. Supplying equipment, education and support to food residuals generators will develop and maintain a high level of participation. “Examining nontraditional feedstocks will ultimately help the county achieve its recycling goal of 50 percent by 2005,” concludes Nutter.
Cory Jamieson and Jesse White are with the Resource Management Group in Sarasota; Monica Ozores-Hampton is with the University of Florida/IFAS in Immokalee; Jean Nutter is project manager for Sarasota County; and Bernadette Thavarajah is with Publix Supermarkets, Inc., Lakeland.

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