Composting Yard Waste and Food Scraps on Columbia College Campus

At Columbia College Chicago, we don’t do “normal”. We praise ourselves for not building our collegiate culture around sports teams, fraternities, or sororities. Instead we do art crawls, dance events, open mics, and large-scale film critiques. Even our campus operations are anything but “normal”. We have no cafeteria or food court, we own one residence center for on-campus housing, and we are largely a commuter-based campus. Sustainability has become a large focus at Columbia, as we continue to integrate it into our arts-based mission and accentuate the talent and creative forces around us. In the last several years, recycling has become habit on campus, so we set our sights on the next goal: compost. Through all the challenges we have faced, we have learned to be resourceful and have found creative solutions to creating and building a campus-wide compost program.

Read more: Composting Yard Waste and Food Scraps on Columbia College Campus

Q Center Spotlight

Q Center Spotlight

Q Center is one of the world’s largest meeting facilities and has a long history of environmental excellence. Currently, 80% of the waste generated at Q is diverted from the landfill through recycling and composting programs. In 2011, Q Center’s food service provider, Aramark, began exploring ways to reduce food waste in its operations.

Brian Holt, Aramark’s Facility Director, brought together the waste hauler, Aramark’s Director of Food & Beverage, and Q Center management in order to discuss the feasibility and logistics of a compost program. To Holt, it was imperative that all stakeholders worked together to come up with a solution. “Everyone had to have some skin in the game,” Holt stated. 

Through these meetings, the waste hauler realized that composting would be beneficial to their business as it would help to eliminate food from the single stream recycling containers. This would create a cleaner stream for both compost and recycling. They were on board. With the buy-in from Aramark’s kitchen staff and the financial support of Q Center, the conference center started composting in 2012. The program has been cost neutral to operate.

Since beginning the program in November of 2012, Q Center has composted over 250 tons of food scraps from the 45,000 customers it serves each month. The company is currently looking for ways to reach a 90% diversion rate.

For those in the planning stages of starting a composting program, Yannick Le Boulch, Director of Food & Beverage says, “Make sure that you get a waste audit if you are a large institution because it is beneficial to know how much you are actually wasting as a baseline.”

Learn how Q Center hasincorporated composting in their long history of environmental excellence at

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Food Waste Reduction: Do it for the Planet; Do it for your Wallet

IFSC Guest Blog Series by Sarah Hidder, Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition

Photo: Composting program in action at Hannah’s Bretzel Chicago (

There is a common misconception among restaurant and business owners that making the ‘green’ choice means making the more expensive choice. More often than not, however, operating in a sustainable manner will save you money. Food waste reduction is one area where restaurants can save big money- and reduce their environmental impact in a big way. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, roughly 35 million tons of wasted food goes to landfills and incinerators in the U.S. every year. Of that 35 million tons of food waste, 15% comes from restaurant operations (Jean Schwab, USEPA). That means that 5.25 million tons of food goes straight from restaurants to the garbage every year. And that translates into a lot of money going to the garbage as well.

It is estimated that on average, 10% of food purchased by restaurants is thrown away. Think about that: if your restaurant buys $100,000 worth of food in a year, $10,000 of what you spend is tossed into the trash! Who can afford throwing away that kind of cash? Plus, not only does throwing away food waste money, it costs money too. Food waste is extremely dense and very heavy; thus, restaurants that throw out a lot of food pay higher waste collection and disposal fees.

So, what can you do about all of this? There are a number of actions you can take to reduce food waste at your restaurant:

Conduct a waste audit: Conducting a waste audit is a great first step in the process of reducing food waste at your restaurant. A waste audit will allow you to evaluate exactly how much food is being thrown away on a daily basis. There are many resources online to help guide you through the waste audit process, including the EPA’s Waste Assessment Approaches guide.

Re-evaluate your purchasing patterns: Once you start keeping an eye on what food items get thrown out at your restaurant, you may start to notice patterns. For instance, maybe you realize that you are throwing out five or six heads of lettuce every few days. This is an indication that you are order more than you need, and you may be able to cut back. Image how much money you could save by making purchasing adjustments like these!

Compost all food scraps!: Despite your best efforts, some amount of food will inevitably end up being tossed out. But this food doesn’t need to become waste- you can create a valuable soil amendment while keeping waste out of landfills simply by composting. Visit the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition’s Food Recovery Resources page, as well as resources at the bottom of this article, for help setting up a composting plan. The Illinois Food Scrap Coalition’s Restaurant Toolkit is another great resource to use when starting a compost program.

Employee training and education: Ensuring that your employees are trained to reduce food waste in the back of the house can have a huge impact on reducing food waste output. Make it part of your business model and include it in initial employee training exercises. If your restaurant has a composting program in place, the success of that program depends greatly on employee engagement and understanding.

Highlight your efforts through certification: Green Seal and the Green Restaurant Association each have independently developed, research based certification standards that apply to the foodservice industry. Third-party certification is a great way to let consumers know that you care about the environment, and that you’re making an effort to reduce the impact of your business. Each of these standards mandates that foodservice operations implement a composting program in order to become certified, so customers can be sure that when they dine at green certified restaurants they are supporting a business that is taking steps to reduce food scraps going to landfills.

Learn More:

●        Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition’s Food Recovery Resources

●        Illinois Food Scrap Coalition’s Restaurant Toolkit

●        Chicago Green Office Challenge: How to Implement a Composting Program

●        Options for Compostable Disposables

●        Third Party Certifications Explained: ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868, Biodegradable Products Institute

●        Green Seal GS-55 Restaurant Certification Standard

●        Green Restaurant Association Restaurant Certification Standard

●        Chicago Department of Aviation Green Concessions Policy

●        Food Donation Resources: Zero Percent & Rock and Wrap it Up!

●        NPR: For Restaurants, Food Waste is Seen as Low Priority

●        Food Waste Prevention Saves Restaurants Money


Photo: Composting program in action at Hannah’s Bretzel Chicago (


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