September 19, 2011 | General

Composting Roundup

BioCycle September 2011, Vol. 52, No. 9, p. 12

San Diego, California
San Diego has rolled out its first dedicated commercial food waste recycling route in a pilot program servicing seven Albertson’s supermarkets. A Waste Management truck delivers food waste from the stores’ bakery, produce, deli and floral departments to The Greenery, the city’s composting facility at the Miramar Landfill. Soon the program will expand to all 13 Albertson’s stores within the city. To date, commercial food waste composting in San Diego has included large entities such as Petco Park, SeaWorld, three local universities and the U.S. Marine Corps. “This is a historic moment for us because it opens the door for mid- and small-size generators to participate,” says Ana Carvalho, environmental specialist for the city of San Diego. She adds that last year alone the total volume of green waste and commercial food waste composted at the Greenery was the equivalent of preserving 52 days of space in the Miramar landfill (based on a decade-old waste composition study soon to be updated). And that’s only about 5 percent of the commercial food waste stream, Carvalho says. “By increasing that to include more mid- and small-size generators, we can potentially double that.”
Residential curbside organics recycling may be in the distant future. “Once we capture the commercial side of this stream, we will look at residential generation, but that would require major infrastructure investment,” says Carvalho. Because of a People’s Ordinance approved by voters in 1919, the city must provide free refuse services for single-family homes, she explains, meaning it would be required to pick up the tab for trucks, drivers, containers and anything else necessary for curbside food scraps recycling with no recouping of fees for service.
Washington, DC
Adrienne Edmands and Paul Kmiotek started Fat Worm, LLC, a company in the Washington, D.C. metro area, to collect food scraps and other organics from residences, schools and businesses. “WORM” is the acronym for Washington’s Organic Recycling Mission. “Adrienne runs a local trash company, and people would call from time to time asking if composting services were available,” says Kmiotek. “We realized then that there is a demand for the service.” They signed up their first customers in July 2010 and estimate they have collected over 40,000 lbs of compostables in a one-year period.
Fat Worm LLC provides each household with a five-gallon high-density plastic bucket with an easy-open lid, and a compostable liner. Each week, residents place the filled buckets in a designated area and receive a clean liner for the following week. If needed, the buckets also are cleaned. Schools and larger commercial customers are provided with 35-gallon toters. “We replace the full toters with clean, empty ones with each collection,” says Edmands. Anything organic can go into the bins. “If something was once alive, or was derived from something that was once alive, like dog poop, then it can go into the bin,” she notes. Pricing varies based on numbers and sizes of bins as well as frequency of collections per week. For example, once-a-week collection of a five-gallon container is $25/month, and $75/month for a 35-gallon bin. Fat Worm Composting currently collects food scraps from 28 locations each week, including schools, offices and residences, as well as at special events several times a year that are attended by 50 to 1,500 people per event.
Edmands and Kmiotek use a 2005 Chevy Astro van to collect the liners and toters. They dump them manually into a 15-cubic-yard industrial container on the site of the trash company Edmands manages, located in northeast Washington near Catholic University. “There is air circulating into the container, and it doesn’t get to a point where it gets so packed down that it rots anaerobically,” says Edmands. “We are able to spread the food scraps out, so that they aren’t in one huge heavy pile.”
When two to three tons of organics have been collected, Fat Worm transports them in a small roll-off truck to Peninsula Composting in Wilmington, Delaware. The 27-acre, $20 million compost facility is located about 100 miles away from where Fat Worm, LLC stores the organics. “The amount of organic material that we collect is more, I feel, than a local farm could handle without it all simply biodegrading just as it would in a landfill,” explains Kmiotek. Organics are brought to Peninsula eight to ten times per year.
Aberdeen, Maryland
Justen Garrity is in the business of putting two good ideas together: compost and employment of young veterans of foreign wars. A veteran of the Iraq war, Garrity returned in 2009 and spent a year researching composting methods and operations before starting his business, Veteran Compost. Garrity would read articles in BioCycle and then call the operators and owners featured. “Everyone was so helpful and supportive,” he said.
Today he’s collecting about 15 tons of food waste a month to produce 50 to 100 cubic yards of compost at a leased 30-acre farm on the outskirts of Aberdeen. A growing part of his business is a vermiculture operation that produces what he calls “the platinum of soil amendments.” Garrity takes composted material from his aerated piles and feeds it to his worms; it spends a month in the worm bins.
“I think the best thing that worms bring to the mix is the microbes in the soil,” he says. “Worms use bacteria and microbes to break down food, and they end up in the soil. It’s an amazing amount of biological life.” The harvested worm castings are sold for $20 for a 20-pound bag. That and compost tea is available onsite, as is the regular compost. Veteran Compost also sells worms and small bags of vermicompost through an Internet site. So far, Garrity has been able to hire two people part-time and also received a lot of help from his friends. His goal is to eventually collect food waste from several cities in Pennsylvania and Maryland and have a staff of up to 20 employees, most or all them veterans.
Compost Quips
“I’m queen of my own compost heap, and I’m getting used to the smell.”
Ani DeFranco, Grammy
Award-winning folksinger
Seattle, Washington
“Recyclable or compostable” has become the new “paper or plastic.” A big player in the world of single-service containers that has opted for the former is Starbucks, a 17,000-store juggernaut whose hometown is Seattle, a region known for both its composting infrastructure and mandatory recycling law. “From a climate perspective, we believe recycling offers a better carbon footprint than composting,” says Jim Hanna, Starbucks’ Director of Environmental Impact. “We would, however, like cups to fit into composting in areas where a recycling system is not available.” Starbucks’ ultimate goal is to have all of its cups in all of its stores either recyclable (under which Hanna included compostable) or reusable (the preferred option, he says) by 2015. Hanna lauded Seattle’s official organics recycler, Cedar Grove Composting, for testing and accepting compostable serviceware in a manner that increases organics diversion as much as possible (see “Tackling The Compostables Conundrum,” p. 43). “To me, that’s where I see a significant role for compostable plastics – cases where it will help foster diversion of organic waste out of landfills and into composting facilities,” Hanna comments. “That’s where it makes sense, and Cedar Grove has shown exceptional leadership in that regard.”
Baltimore, Maryland
The Harbor Market Kitchen is a new feature at the National Aquarium designed to showcase the major tourist attraction’s overall commitment to sustainability. This includes a menu of local seasonal fare offered at the Sodexo-operated facility as well as an aggressive and visible composting program that’s helped the entire operation reach nearly 95 percent organics diversion. “I compost at home, and I wanted to do it here,” says the National Aquarium’s Senior Director of Visitor Operations Bill Minarik.
The aquarium has actually been composting at the back of the house for more than a year – including scraps from training and feeding some 16,000 resident fish, reptiles, birds and mammals as well as preconsumer kitchen scraps – and contracting with a private hauler to deliver material for processing to Recycled Green in nearby Woodbine, Maryland. Fine-tuning that endeavor has evolved from having customers place compostable serviceware on tables to be sorted by employees to placing shadowboxes on top of receptacles marked “compost,” “recycle” and “landfill.” Currently, the facility diverts about 16 tons of organics annually.
The Harvest Market Kitchen recently invested in a commercial dishwasher in order to clean scores of reusable bamboo plates currently on back order, and Minarik is talking to vendors about the aquarium’s needs moving forward. “We still have some things going to landfill, but we’ve been reducing and reducing,” he says. “When I spoke with Good Humor and Pepsi, I said: ‘We enjoy making money off your products and carrying them, but maybe in four or five years we won’t.’ We’re trying to get them to do what we’re doing here.”
Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts
Shelburne Falls is a small community located on both sides of the scenic Deerfield River, in the foothills of the Berkshires, and a favored destination for international travelers to take in river views from the famous Bridge of Flowers. In 2010, the Shelburne Falls-Buckland central business district began an innovative pilot Collaborative Composting Program, administered by the Shelburne Falls Area Business Association (SFABA) with technical assistance from Environmental Compliance Services (ECS) of Agawam, Massachusetts, and the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District (FCSWMD).
“Participating businesses are primarily food-related establishments generating organics including compostable paper waste, which is further augmented by shredded paper waste generated from other local businesses,” says ECS partner Thomas Benjamin. “Collected and processed food waste includes vegetables, meat, coffee grinds and dairy products, reflecting the diverse fare served by the participating cafes, restaurants and local sweet shop.” The businesses collectively generate as much as 500 gallons/week of food waste (roughly 1 ton), says Benjamin. When combined with what can be an additional ton of paper waste, the materials fill a 4-cubic-yard Dumpster weekly. A local hauler takes the Dumpster to Martin’s Farm in neighboring Greenfield, Massachusetts, where it is processed into compost for reuse on local farms and in area gardens. “The compost helps create a closed-loop system through its use at local farms that, in turn, serve downtown restaurants,” says Benjamin.
The collection fee is $140/month. “Participating businesses have begun to see savings on disposal costs,” he adds. “At one business, disposal costs have been reduced by 30 percent since diverting their compostable waste.” In early 2011, the Composting Program received a Downtown Initiative grant from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development to assess its current performance, an indication that the program stands out as an innovative approach to promoting the downtown business area. The SFABA is working on a logo program to recognize participating businesses and publicize Shelburne Falls’ move in the green direction.

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