Coffee grounds, trimmings from kitchen prep, partially eaten meals, and leftovers from catering – how much food is thrown in the trash at your facility?
According to the USDA, “31%, or 133 billion pounds, of the available food supply in the U.S. goes uneaten.” Food waste is second only to paper products in waste production, accounting for 14.5% of the 251 million tons of trash generated in 2012. Due to low recovery rates, only 2% of these organic materials are diverted from landfills, notes the EPA.
A combination of more effective use and diversion of food waste can make a major impact on the reduction of methane gas emissions produced by food decomposing in landfills. Given that commercial facilities produce more waste than a single-family home, owners and operators are in a position to make a significant difference by managing food waste.
Use these five tips to capture food scraps, reduce your tipping fees, and green your operations.
Overcome Barriers to Food Recovery
Recovering organic waste can be a challenge for commercial buildings, particularly as the infrastructure needed for composting lags behind other recycling options. For facility managers, the biggest internal barriers to beginning a food diversion program are both cultural and behavioral change. Building operators must gain consensus from all stakeholders in the process from leadership down to the individuals who will physically separate the food into each of its diversion streams. Typically a single facility will select two or three waste streams (such as food donation, composting, and landfill).
The time and energy it takes to sort the waste into the right stream are frequently a struggle. The best practice is to sort the food material at the source, usually in the kitchen. This reduces double handling and increases the efficiency, but also requires building operators to engage occupants directly and educate them on what can and cannot be composted. In Seattle, the public utility company offers free signage and education materials to remind occupants what materials can go into each waste stream.
Another common issue with food recovery programs is space. You need floor space in the source area for sorting in addition to an area for waste container storage. Composting bins can also be an odor issue if they are not removed on a regular basis. In most cases, two or three days is the longest you will want to leave food waste at your facility waiting for transport.
Document Your Recycling Efforts
When starting a composting program, you will be most successful if you start with an audit of your garbage. Often your waste hauler can perform this service for you through visual analysis and estimation at their facility, though this is not as accurate as completing a full audit.
With a full audit, start by assembling your team. You will want someone representing each of your major departments. These may include maintenance/engineering, housekeeping, mailroom, purchasing, product line, operations, and management.
To fully understand the creation of waste in your building, conduct a walkthrough. Establish where materials are received and follow their lifecycle all the way through to the disposal location. Note what sort of waste is generated from receiving areas, stockrooms, dining areas, and kitchens.
Your team will need to take a hands-on approach and complete a trash sorting and audit exercise. Schedule this for the end of the day or shift. You should also do two or three inspections over the course of a few weeks to make sure you avoid any anomalous days. Make sure everyone brings work clothes and that you provide protective gear such as gloves for everyone participating.
At the end of the sort, weigh the materials and calculate what percentage of organic materials could be captured with food recovery. By establishing a baseline for your waste streams, you can more effectively target reduction and diversion strategies.
When you compost food products you often reduce your tipping fee, which can add up quite a bit for a large facility. Work with your waste hauler to complete a cost benefit analysis. In the final analysis, every pound of waste that you divert from your garbage will reduce your tipping costs at the landfill.