Food waste is a BIG problem in the United States, with more than 36 million tons of food waste being generated in 2012 alone. Only 5% of this was diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
St. Louis Composting (SLC) strives to make composting food waste as easy as possible for restaurants and businesses. Diverting food waste slows the stream of ozone-depleting organic waste buried in landfills while creating bountiful soil amendments naturally known as compost. SLC with the help of Total Organics Recycling (TOR) collect organic material from participating food outlets and manage moisture, nitrogen, oxygen and temperature levels to create ideal conditions for the magical microbial activity that transforms it into nutrient-rich compost in about six months.
How the Program Works
On average, a typical restaurant will generate about 50 tons of organic waste a year. That’s a whole lot of waste that can be put to good use rather than buried in a landfill. Additionally, when food waste is disposed into a landfill, it decays and becomes a substantial source of methane. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The EPA states that more than 20% of all methane emissions in the US can be contributed to landfills. SLC assists businesses in reducing the emissions related to their waste stream by composting.
Before rolling out a food scrap composting program, a SLC representative will meet with staff to review program details and do a walk-through of their kitchen. A visual waste audit looks at their typical waste stream to account for how many compost totes they will need. SLC meets with everyone who will be participating in the program and reviews what can and cannot be composted. Clear signage can also be provided to display as helpful reminders for employees and a short DVD aids restaurants and businesses in training their new-hires to ease the composting learning curve. If contamination is consistently found after training, SLC will go back and perform another training session with all employees. A formal waste audit will be performed if needed. Direct feedback is provided to program participants and a SLC representative is just a call away if they have any questions or need additional trainings.
Program participants discard their organic scraps into yellow totes that are provided by TOR. The totes are then picked up on scheduled pick-up days and swapped out with new and clean bins. The waste stream determines how many bins and pick-ups they receive. Additional bins and pick-ups are easily requested for special events or increases in production.
SLC works with over 200 restaurants and businesses in the St. Louis Metropolitan area including the St. Louis Cardinals, Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri Botanical Garden, Schnucks Markets, Washington University in St. Louis, Hyatt Regency at the Arch and many more.
SLC began receiving food waste in 2010 and received six tons during the first week. Today, more than 400 tons per week are received. This number is constantly increasing due to advancing food scrap composting industry and public knowledge of the negative side effects of food waste disposal in landfills.
All food waste is currently composted at the Belleville, Ill. Facility. Food waste is received in two different ways. The first way is directly hauled by the hauler (figure 1). The food waste is dumped into an existing windrow. Food waste is then immediately covered up with yard waste that is in the process of breaking down, which helps with vector issues. The second way is by a transfer trailer from SLC’s transfer facility in Maryland Heights, Mo
Nutrient-rich Soil Amendments
As food waste is mixed in with yard waste, both materials decompose and generate heat that sanitizes the material and makes it beneficial for plant growth. Compost is an organic material that has the unique ability to improve the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of soils or growing media. It contains plant nutrients but is not characterized as a fertilizer, which is another reason compost is so great for your soil.
Compost has several benefits that includes improving soil structure, porosity and density thus creating a better plant root environment, increases infiltration and permeability of heavy soils reducing erosion and runoff, improving water holding capacity helping to reduce water loss and leaching in sandy soils, improves and stabilizes soil pH and supplies a variety of macro and micronutrients to name a few.
Once the food waste has gone through the composting process and is ground and screened to a specific size, it is then ready for sale to the public, which includes the general public, landscapers, municipalities and others. SLC has five retail locations to purchase food amended STA-Certified compost either in bulk or by bag. SLC also delivers finished material to customers needing more than a few bags without access to a truck or trailer. The material is used in gardens, lawns, and erosion control projects.