You probably don’t think twice about recycling cardboard, plastic, glass and light bulbs. But what about food waste? Your facility is a constant source of organic material that could be diverted from the landfill: meal scraps, kitchen prep castoffs, and lawn and landscape trimmings.
But composting isn’t widely practiced at the residential level, so it’s even more difficult to start a program on a commercial scale.
Here are four ways to integrate composting into your waste management:
1) Find a Service Provider
Few properties have the space or staffing to compost on site, so most look to a third-party vendor to help compost effectively. Your municipal waste agency may offer a compost option that you can add to your existing trash and recycling services. Otherwise, you will need to contract with a private vendor.
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Starting a compost program is a great opportunity to switch to compostable products, such as paper towels, dishware, disposable cutlery, drinking straws, beverage cups and food packaging. Your compost hauler can help you select compostable food serviceware and trash linings, says Frank Franciosi, executive director of the U.S. Composting Council.
2) Modify Your Waste Protocol
Adopting composting will result in facility-wide changes, such as adding new containers, altering how trash is separated and reconfiguring your loading dock or dumpster area. Like other recycling efforts, composting can scale over time. It might make sense to focus first on the source that generates the most organic waste.
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“Start small by separating pre-consumer organics,” Franciosi advises. “Food prep waste has fewer contaminants and is easy to divert.”
Even if collected material only sits for a few days before pickup, odors could be an issue. Pick a discreet location that has a 50-foot radius and is not under windows or air intakes, recommends Michael Bryan-Brown, president of Green Mountain Technologies, a compost consulting company.
Because organic waste is dense due to its high moisture content, even a 5-gallon bucket has the potential to hurt a worker’s back if lifted improperly. Rolling carts let you easily transport containers to collection areas. Sites that produce a significant volume of food leftovers may need to move bins with a skid steer, says Bryan-Brown.
3) Get Staff Buy-In
As with any green initiative, success is dependent on employee support. If you provide compost bins but no one uses them or employees treat them like a trash can, your program will flounder.
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“The number one mistake is not educating your workforce on the importance of source separation, which reduces the risk of contamination,” Franciosi says.
Though composting typically falls under facilities management, you may need to collaborate with other departments. Whether your site has a simple breakroom, a commercial kitchen, a cafeteria or an on-site restaurant, all stakeholders should have input and proper training.
“Composting is not a self-managed process. You need commitment from the kitchen staff and facility personnel,” says Bryan-Brown. “You also need a dedicated person who can run the program and ensure it operates smoothly.”
4) Justify the Cost
A typical waste audit shows that 50 percent of all waste is compostable, says Bryan-Brown, but that varies from facility to facility. To determine if you can lower costs by composting, you have to know three things: how much waste you currently produce, what percentage is organic and what your tipping fees are.
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Depending on available services, composting may be the same price or more expensive than regular landfill pickup. If it’s not economically advantageous, look at the green value it might add to your company’s reputation.
“Doing what’s right for the environment is good for public relations and employee morale,” notes Franciosi. “You can show your stakeholders and community that your company is meeting its sustainability goals.”
If you have extensive landscaping, composting can also become a closed-loop product for your grounds.
“You know the quality of that composted product because you know where it came from,” says Bryan-Brown. “You are returning something you generated in your building onto your grounds.”
Jennie Morton is a contributing editor for BUILDINGS.
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