Composting cafeteria waste: 6 tips to help you get started

Discussion in 'Office and Cafeteria Waste Best Practices' started by Andy, Aug 27, 2013.

  1. Andy

    Andy Administrator Waste Min Publisher 2013 Industrial Waste Survey Participant

    Especially for those locations large enough to have on-site cafeterias, organic food waste can be a significant wastestream. Plants and facilities may have a special set of obstacles because in the overall scheme, we are "tweeners": we generate enough food waste for it to be an issue, but not so much to justify out-of-area haulers or farms to pick it up for free (for example, in the case of food production or processing operations).

    So, what can a plant do about cafeteria food waste and composting?

    1) Have you called your waste hauler? It never hurts to ask.

    Major haulers like Waste Management and Veolia are installing new compost facilities every year... Veolia alone has 162 composting facilities nationally. Smaller haulers may not be able to justify a program, but they may know of local sources looking for organic waste (or maybe they have been considering a composting program themselves and just need a nudge).

    2) Is there a college, university, hospital or other large institution nearby? Helping you compost may be part of their mission... and part of someone's job description.
    Major food waste generators like colleges, universities, hospitals, or even prisons tend to generate enough food waste to justify major food waste composting initiatives, and may even have their own internal compost hauling operation for satellite locations. They may also have excess compost processing capacity, and be willing to accept your waste as part of their program.

    Especially in the case of state universities, it may be part of their charter that they offer advice and outreach to others in the state. The vast majority of universities now have sustainability managers, as well as agricultural science outreach... and either can be a great resource (even if your plant is not close to a university).

    In my experience, Extension offices tend to be extremely knowledgeable, fast to respond, and can get you in touch with the right people or program to help. You're looking for "the email address at the bottom of the page" for a university article on composting, or google "(university) Ag Sci extension office." For example, here's Penn State's:

    3) Are there any independent composters, such as worm farms, garden societies or nurseries nearby?
    Many local nurseries also have mulch and compost operations... or, they may be willing to start a compost program if they can receive a regular stream of organic waste (such as from your cafeteria). Good, screened compost is a great source of revenue to a nursery. One source of compost locations with a mix of municipal and private operations:

    One of the keywords is "vermicomposting", which is compost created by worms. If you're in a rural location, you may think, "Who the heck would be "vermicomposting" out here?"... well, consider that any time you see fishing bait, those worms are coming from a vermicomposting operation, and many times those operations are local.

    4) Have you asked neighboring plants or facilities?
    If you're part of a chamber of commerce or industrial park, someone else may have a local solution... or they may also want to compost. Expand the search, and together, the plants may have the volume to justify a hauler or nursery getting in the compost business.

    5) Would you consider on-site, closed cell composting?
    There are some interesting commercial composting machines out there, and one I though might be especially interesting is called the Earth Tub from Green Mountain Technologies They have quite a few installations at smaller universities, etc, and a single Earth Tub is rated to receive 100lb of organic waste per day. So, it appears that the Earth Tub may be designed around "tweener" operations, and GMT has quite a few composting solutions.

    It looks like they have a great "installed base" of customers, as well... from the US Army to Texas A&M. If there is interest from the Forum, perhaps I can bring in some of their staff to get a bit more in-depth on composting for plants and facilities.

    6) Have you called in reinforcements? Drop the US Composting Council an email.
    The US Composting Council is the national composting industry group, and they're there to help... here is a list of ways to contact them with your question:

    Tell us about your experience with either on-site or off-site composting... and how has it gone so far?
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2013
  2. Bill

    Bill Contributor Registered Member

    Hi Andy,

    I kicked off a compost collection program in our corporate office once I learned that our building already had a pick-up program in place! My job has been/is education of our staff: what is/is not compost, why compost, it's not that 'gross', etc. It's been more successful than I would have imagined, 20 gallons collected in 2 weeks!
  3. Andy

    Andy Administrator Waste Min Publisher 2013 Industrial Waste Survey Participant

    Hey Bill... That sounds like a really nice/convenient setup, for sure... is it a municipal program, or a waste contractor of some sort doing the pickups? 20 gals in two weeks is definitely impressive.

    I've done a fair amt of research on early adopter behavior over the years, and it seems like if there is that small group who buys in, it's all downhill from there. The trick seems to be finding that small group... were there gardeners or another group that helped you break the program?

    Any usage/program obstacles you've overcome or are running into? Sounds like you had a pretty tight initial training program in place out of the gate... and from the material you have already, sounds like it's off to a great start.