Composting and Your Restaurant: Part 1

Everywhere you look you are seeing businesses and restaurants advertising their "green" practices. This trend is growing rapidly, and it doesn't look like it's going to slow down. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco are even requiring businesses to compost their waste now, and this is expected to start in other cities as well. Restaurants of all types and sizes are seeing the benefits of switching to green practices and advertising this to their customers. The hardest part about going green is starting. Out of the hundreds of ways to make your restaurant eco-friendly, where do you start?

Most people are unfamiliar with how composting actually works, and therefore the benefits it provides for both the environment and business. Before writing this, I was just as unfamiliar with the process. To educate myself, I talked to several composting facilities in the area. Terra-Gro, Inc. in Terre Hill, Pennsylvania was kind enough to walk me through their composting process to give me a better idea of how it works. Terra-Gro, Inc. gets most of their composting material from farmers, but they also collect material from local restaurants and food services that makes their composting quicker and more efficient. Each composting facility has their own techniques and preferences, but the general process is the same for most of them.

Composting process:

  • 1) The waste material is collected and screened to remove anything that could be harmful to the composting process, like metal and plastics. Compostable material is generally anything organic, things like food scraps and paper.
  • 2) The material is placed in an aerated bin to allow air flow, and is kept away from water.
  • 3) Next, the waste material is spread in windrows under a roof where it is protected from harsh weather. The material is then turned approximately 3 times a week, over a several week period. During this entire process, the material is closely monitored to make sure it is at correct moisture and temperature levels necessary for proper composting. This is where different composting facilities vary the most. Most composters have their own special way of layering the material or length of time between turning it.
  • 4) Once fully composted, the material is taken out of the windrows and put into a storage unit to let it cure. It is screened one last time for any metals or plastics that could have been missed.
  • 5) The compost material is ready to be sold or delivered to customers.

And that's it! By the end of this 3 month period, you are left with rich composted material for gardens or farmland. So what are the benefits? Composting your organic material will eliminate a significant amount of waste in landfills, where it is not always able to compost properly by itself. This will reduce the amount of harmful gases that are produced by landfills, allowing for much cleaner air. Business-wise, you are enhancing your "green" image to your customers by showing your environmental responsibility. Since organic material is most of the waste that comes from restaurants, you will be saving money on trash costs, too.

Stay tuned for next week's post about integrating composting into your restaurant kitchen!
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