Why businesses should turn their food waste into compost
Companies large and small can do more to ensure that leftovers from cafeterias and catered events don’t end up as landfill
Tuesday 17 April 2012 11.05 EDT
In the US, food waste was the largest contributor to landfills in 2010. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod
It had been a few years since I travelled through Seattle’s airport, so I did a double-take when I saw compost bins in the main food court. Although the airport has had a composting plan in place for a few years, this was still new to passengers, including me. That brief experience in Seattle signalled a trend in how the private sector can work on waste diversion efforts. For now food waste is not high on most companies’ sustainability agenda, but interest is increasing. As it should be.
In the United States, food scraps were the second largest contributor to municipal waste in 2010. Even after recycling, food waste was the largest contributor to landfills with almost 34m tonnes discarded that year. Food waste is a huge emitter of methane, with 120m tonnes of emissions coming from landfill sites in the US in 2009.
More food companies are starting to compost their waste, from local breweries to large supermarket chains like Whole Foods. The fight to keep food scraps out of landfill is an uphill climb, however. Suggestions that MacDonalds should test composting, sent by young franchisees to its corporate headquarters, have been as well received as requests to install rooftop gardens on top of its restaurants. But the food industry is not the only sector that can do more to divert food scraps away from landfills. Companies large and small can work with local government to ensure that waste from cafeterias and catered events be put to better use.
One pilot programme brings together a chemical company with America’s favourite pastime. Just10 miles away from Seattle airport, the chemical company BASF has partnered with the Seattle Mariners baseball franchise to increase the team’s already impressive record on composting. BASF contributes rubbish bags made out of its bioplastics so that the team’s stadium operations can haul away everything from peanut shells to compostable utensils. Over 80% of organic waste, about 400 tonnes of food waste and grass clippings, are now composted annually. BASF wins through the promotion of its Ecovio compostable plastic; the city of Seattle benefits from a cleaner and more hygienic method to haul trash from the 48,000-seat ballpark while cutting down on local greenhouse gas emissions.
Another innovative project involves several local companies’ headquarters. Cincinnati is home to several large American corporations, including Kroger, Procter & Gamble and Macy’s. These companies are part of the Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council, which is pushing local businesses to ramp up sustainability programs. The group has started by distributing workplace compost kits to companies across the region. Procter & Gamble now composts food at company cafeterias serving 6,000 employees and will soon roll out the program to its other corporate locations. Realising that such an initiative involves behavioural change, the company posts big signs that point out the differences between the different bins while workers assist employees with sorting their waste at the end of their meals. Other large firms with local offices in southern Ohio, including Duke Energy and Mitsubishi, have also committed to the programme’s success. The waste is then hauled to local farms where it is processed and composted.
What has started in Cincinnati is a model for other cities across the country. True, for many small and medium businesses, composting is not an obvious item on the sustainability to-do list. But in countless downtown towers and office parks, they create enough food waste to match that of America’s larger corporations. Working with property management companies and local organic farms, business can turn a pesky annoyance into a way of boosting their green credentials and decreasing their greenhouse emissions.
Leon Kaye is founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com
Totally Green promotes environmental stewardship and sustainability for corporations, businesses, and consumers. We offer two cost-effective, innovative products: the ORCA Green Machine converts food waste to water in 24hrs while reducing landfills and methane gas; and Green Bottle Spring Water provides fresh spring water in earth-friendly, compostable bottles and near your location to reduce transportation.