The Life of Compost
One of our customers recently wrote a blog post about our compost service that was based on a mis-understanding. We were accused of sending the food scraps to landfill, from the Compost service we provide. We want to explain more about our Compost service, and encourage you to reach out to us directly with your questions.
1. Yes We Compost
We started our compost service in 2007. We began with a strong partnership with the City of Cambridge, to divert food scraps from Cambridge schools and businesses.
We handle 8,000 tons per year of material for Composting, over 35 tons per day – from over 250 universities, restaurants, breweries, and institutions in the Boston area. We haul their food scraps to local farms for composting.
We are the chosen partner with the City of Cambridge to collect the compost from the City’s first residential composting program. This includes 5-7 tons each week from over 1,400 homes in Cambridge. We take the food scraps collected from this program to Rocky Hill Farm in Saugus, where they compost the material.
2. Challenges with Compostable Disposable Dishware
In our industry, we find it increasingly challenging to find a processing outlet for the compostable dishware, utensils, and one-time use compostable cups.
BioCycle Magazine (a revered industry publication) has highlighted and written about the challenges with many of the compostable dishware products on the market. The consumer market for these items advanced far faster than the end-of-life processing outlets. Farm-based composters have a limited tolerance for the compostable dishware, preferring food scraps.
Front-Of-House and Back-Of-House
In 2011, we changed our services to offer a “Front-Of-House” composting option for the compostable dishware. WeCare Environmental is the only local commercial facility that would process the compostable dishware mixed with organics. They are what we call an Industrial Compost Facility.
This processing outlet is no longer a viable solution. We decided to distance ourselves from this facility because of their operational inconsistencies. That means, all of the food waste we manage for our customers right now must be taken to local farms. So ensuring good quality of the food scraps we collect is imperative.
On the west coast, and in many cities nation-wide, compost haulers and processors no longer accept the compostable disposable dishware items in their compost stream. For example, Portland Oregon just banned all non-food items for composting. READ MORE.
“Back-Of-House” compost refers to all of the food scraps that are collected from the preparation of food (onion skins, potato peelings, bones, egg shells), and left-over uneaten food. This is what we refer to as “Food Only” composting. ALL of the food waste material from the “Back-of-House” programs we collect goes to local farms.
3. We can’t compost trash – Contamination
“Front-Of-House” programs aren’t just a challenge because of the compostable dishware. They tend to attract non-compostable trash items. These programs rely on the public to do the right thing when using a compost bin in a public area. People that aren’t familiar with a compost program may make a mistake – and throw away a non-compostable cup in the compost, if it looks similar to the compostable cup.
We cannot compost trash. Plastic bags, plastic gloves, plastic wrap, plastic utensils, plastic cups. When we see these items, it’s the expectation that our drivers let us know, so we can talk with our customers and help them clean up.
If we go to a farm-based composter with too much contamination, our truck gets re-loaded, and we have to dump the whole load as trash. And that’s expensive. That’s why we’re focused on quality control with our compost customers.
When a compost customer has a cart that is heavily contaminated, that cart of material needs to go to the trash, UNTIL it can be cleaned up and managed well.
Photos of some of the contaminated compost we’ve received
4. Summer 2016 changes – Organics Processing Center
At the end of this summer, a new Organics Processing Center will open at our facility in Charlestown, MA. We will accept Food-Only at this organics center. We will no longer be able to process compostable dishware/single-use service ware for composting – the items will be screened out.
The food scraps WILL all still be processed – and will be used for energy production via anerobic digestion. The remaining material can be used as a fertilizer.
We are talking with our customers about these changes. We strive together towards more sustainable and responsible organics processing.
5. Best Practices
Durables / Re-Usables
A best practice we see in our industry to address the challenge of disposables is to use durable service-ware – washable cutlery that can be reused. We recognize the challenge of re-usables in fast-paced food service environments, yet see that changes to use durable utensils and food-service containers drives significant waste reduction.
Compostable Bags & Cleaning Carts – “Hardware”
Compost programs need a good balance of “hardware” – proper carts and collection procedures for the food scraps – and “software” – education and continuous training.
We encourage compost customers to use compostable bags in their programs. Bags must be certified compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute. See approved bags HERE.
Washing carts frequently also keeps the compost program clean, and reduces pest activity.
Education & Training – “Software”
At the start of our compost programs, we teach managers and food preparation employees the “Dos” and “Don’ts” of composting. We are available to answer questions on an ongoing basis. The best compost programs are ones where internal leaders drive training, communication, and proper separation of the food scraps.
We send our customers feedback when our drivers report that they see trash contamination in the compost carts. This is an important aspect of having an effective relationship-based compost service.
We can guide you through the process to continue compost / organics processing for your Food-Only waste, and make a responsible choice about whether you continue to use compostable dishware.
Please contact me directly to talk about our composting & organics processing practices.
Thank you for your continued commitments to responsible materials management.
& the Save That Stuff team