If food cannot be re-purposed in-house or recovered for donation, it still needs to be disposed. When food – and its unavoidable inedible parts – is sent to landfill, it gradually decomposes in an environment without oxygen, and produces methane, a harmful greenhouse gas at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane emissions from landfills account for close to 18% of total methane emissions in the U.S.
When food is composted, it emits some greenhouse gases during decomposition, but precious nutrients are returned to the soil. Improved soil health benefits local farms or gardens AND emissions are kept from landfills. It’s a win-win for everyone.
4 Steps to Create Your Own Diversion Program
1. Understand your local regulations and waste disposal requirements
2. Evaluate local options for diversion based on property needs
3. Train staff on any new technology or processes
4. Gather data
Step 1: Understand local regulations
The operations and stewarding staff are responsible for assessing local regulations or guidelines for disposal of food waste by checking local government websites or contacting the local department of waste management. Several states already have or are considering landfill bans of organic waste, so its important to understand your circumstances.
Landfill Ban in NYC
Since 2016, hotels in NYC have been required to separate and divert organic waste from landfill under threat of fines. To comply with regulations, hotels worked quickly with local haulers that provide composting or anaerobic digestion services and with vendors to rent on-site digesters or dehydrators. As more cities pass organic landfill bans, more hotels will face this challenge. Focus first on prevention to minimize waste generation, then donation to partners. Investigate diversion options before its required to stay ahead of the game.
Step 2: Explore options and implement solution
Once you understand your local regulations, communicate with existing waste haulers to determine alternative solutions to landfill or incinerator that address the regulation or go above and beyond any legally mandated requirements. Existing haulers may offer these services or have insight into other local options for offsite composting or anaerobic digestion.
Explore options for on-site management if there is limited opportunity to haul food waste to dedicated processors. There are several available technologies, some offering enhanced data collection and environmental efficiency, such as:
- On-site composting, which can be used for on-site landscaping or redistributed or sold to staff, guests or community’s for use in gardening.
- Digesters, with or without enzymes, which process food waste into greywater and flush to local waste water treatment plants. With this technology, prioritize options that use enzymes to minimize nutrient loading on local waste water treatment plants (remember to check local regulations) and only use equipment that incorporates measurement technology. Weighing waste allows you to track how prevention activities impact generation over time
- Dehydrators, which can reduce the volume of food waste by up to 70%, minimizing waste hauling costs.
Step 3: Train Staff
Once a hauler or other landfill diversion system has been designated, train all staff that dispose of underutilized food to prevent contamination in food waste bins. Training should be directed at stewarding staff, including temporary and overnight support staff. This will take several weeks of reinforcement before operations begin to run smoothly.
Diversion for Animal Consumption
While donation to feed the less fortunate takes priority, further down the chain, there is also significant benefit to re-routing food for animal feed over other diversion strategies. Unlike composting or onsite processing, feeding animals saves
- Disposal resources,
- Methane emissions resulting from landfill disposal, and
- Resources necessary to produce more animal feed.
Animal feed programs can often complement traditional donation programs, as some food that is inedible for human consumption is still appropriate for animals.
Feeding Animals Food Scraps
The Hotel Hershey established a partnership with ZooAmerica to divert food scrapes for animal feed. The hotel diverts much of its kitchen waste – lettuce scraps, bread from buffets, and meat trimmings which would not be fit for human consumption – to the zoo, reducing landfill waste.
Hog farms and animal feed suppliers are other potential outlets for food not fit for people. Investigate your local options and start an untraditional partnership.
Step 4: Collect Data
As with donation, collecting data via reports from haulers or on-site management software is essential to assessing progress against goals, understanding continued problem areas, and establishing new goals. This data can contribute to a holistic understanding of your operations and continued areas for improvement.
Creating a compost program can be daunting and requires continual upkeep. But with dedicated staff and resources it can be accomplished in as few as 4 weeks. The Fairmont Washington D.C., Georgetown had no prior separation system in place before WWF’s project. Within a month, the property found a local compost hauler that could handle their volume, established a contract, and began separating their organic waste, thanks to a dedicated Steward with help from the Sustainability Team. They decreased trash compactor pulls and lowered waste bills.