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Employ a proper composting plan to avoid wasting time, money

November 19, 2014

By Al Rattie

The path to environmental responsibility consists of taking small, but steady steps. One way to accomplish this goal is to divert the amount of food scraps sent to landfills by composting that material at your restaurant and turning it into more useful products, such as topsoil for use in gardens and on farms. Developing a composting program requires an investment of time and manpower, but once you have the right people, services and tools in place, you can succeed in reducing your food waste and carbon footprint.
 
First off, you’ll need to find out where the closest facility is and whether they accept food scraps for composting. Many commercial composter manufacturers are not permitted to accept food scraps so it’s important to contact your state EPA office to find out which ones do.
 
Next, it’s crucial you find a hauler who will pick up and take your food scraps away. If your current hauler does not accept food scraps, contact your local composting facility for a list of haulers they work with.
 
Once you’ve identified a hauler to take the scraps, focus on the most convenient ways to collect it at your restaurant. Place totes or bins in 22-, 32- or 64-gallon sizes around the work stations where food scraps are generated.

It’s also important to create signage, using graphic images whenever possible, to show what items can and cannot be composted and/or recycled. The signage should be printed in English and Spanish and placed adjacent to the food scrap collection bins.
Your success depends on how well your employees understand what is and isn’t acceptable for placement in composting collection bins and totes. You can usually include:

  • All produce, fruit scraps and peelings
  • Coffee grounds and paper filters
  • All paper products, including paper towels
  • Compostable utensils, if used
  • Floral waste
  • Outdated baked goods
  • Egg shells, meat, fish, poultry scraps and dairy products
  • Compostable ‘plastic’ liners, food wraps, etc.

Once your employees understand what can be composted, their training really begins. Since restaurant staff and management can change frequently, ongoing training is essential to maintaining a clean food-scrap diversion program. Your composting facility is a good place to start in getting information on proper educational materials that will offer tips on how to avoid waste contamination.

Last, but not least, understand that food scraps must be collected frequently. Ideally, that collection would occur every other day. If not, store the food scraps in refrigerated units within the restaurant to eliminate odors. Outside storage is not desirable unless frequent pick-ups can be obtained. The restaurateur who follows these guidelines will ensure his or her composting program is a successful venture.
 
Al Rattie is the interim executive director for the U.S. Composting Council