Now that you are aware of the benefits of composting in your restaurant and how it can be done with the help of a composting facility (Part 1 and Part 2 of my blog series), you should know about other options you have for composting waste in your restaurant. For larger restaurants and businesses, it is usually easier to use a composting facility because of the amount of waste your business generates. For lower-volume restaurants, it is usually recommended to compost waste yourself. Starting a composting project is quite a committment, but the "green" benefits of doing so are well worth the time and effort put into it. Jake Chalfin from Laurel Valley Soils, a composting facility in Avondale, Pennsylvania, explained the composting process his facility uses and that it can be done on a smaller scale for restaurant owners who want to do it themselves. He highly recommended that anyone who has the capability of composting their own waste choose to do so.
After my conversation with Jake, I did a little more research to give you some tips on how to compost your restaurant waste. The success of your composting endeavor is a result of 4 main factors - ingredients, temperature, moisture, and air circulation.
IngredientsThrowing all of your food waste in a pile outside will end with messy and potentially smelly results. To produce quality compost, it is key to have the right mix of ingredients. You will need an equal mix of both nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials. How do you know which ingredients are rich in carbon and rich in nitrogen? Sites like compostinstructions.com provide charts to show you which ingredients are rich in nitrogen and which are rich in carbon. This will help you make sure that you have a mix of half carbon and half nitrogen ingredients for fast and efficient composting. Some examples of nitrogen-rich ingredients include coffee grounds, grass clippings, and food scraps. Some carbon-rich ingredients are dead leaves, newspaper, and un-dyed paper.
TemperatureNow that you know which ingredients to use, what do you do with them? If you have a very small amount of material to compost, it is usually best to use a composting bin. Composting bins are low maintenance and are great for areas with limited space. If you have a large amount of material to compost and land space, you can create a compost pile on your property. A compost pile should be no smaller than 3' x 3' x 3', but no bigger than 8 feet tall. Piles larger than 8 feet tall create higher temperatures that have the potential to combust. Because food waste can have an odor in the initial stages of composting, it should be placed in a warm, elevated spot away from trees and your establishment. A pile smaller than 3' will not reach proper temperatures in the center for proper composting. The pile needs to stay warm so microbes can properly break down the material to create the compost. The pile should be turned and mixed every 3 or 4 days so all of the material gets in the warm center for faster composting.To help keep your material warm, use a dark-colored composting bin or cover your material with a black tarp for a few hours when the sun is out.
MoistureThe materials in your composting pile need to stay moist for the microbes to break everything down. If your pile is sitting in the sun to keep it warm, it is going to dry out quickly. Your material should constantly have the moisture level of a damp sponge. You can add water from your kitchen (not soapy water!) or use a hose to keep the material damp on hot days, but you do not want your material to be too wet, either. Keeping your pile elevated will allow any excess water to drain.
Air CirculationIf your material is stuck in the center of your pile for weeks, it is not getting any oxygen and will not compost correctly. This is another reason why it is important to turn and mix your material on a regular basis. If you are using a composting bin, make sure it has ventillation holes so oxygen can circulate throughout your material.
Once you have the proper mix of materials to compost, have created a pile or placed it in a bin, and have turned your material every 3 or 4 days for a few weeks, you will start to see your material turning into a dark, nutrient-rich compost. You can use your compost on your own property for landscaping to create an attractive outdoor appearance for your restaurant, or you can donate it to your community to be used in parks and other local areas.Jake Chalfin is the Sales Manager at Laurel Valley Soils in Avondale, Pennsylvania. Laurel Valley Soils is a composting facility for agricultural products and does composting for the mushroom capital of the world - Kennett Square.The business creates quality compost for many different types of customers, and even manufactures customized blends of compost. Visit the Laurel Valley Soils website at laurelvalleysoils.com for more information.
Stay tuned for Part 4 of this blog series about starting other eco-friendly practices in your restaurant!