Composting in the Workplace On the Biggest and the Smallest of Scales

Being a sustainability junkie, I am always looking for ways to get my fix. I became interested in composting after a Sustainable Cities course at Chandler-Gilbert Community College taught by Dr. Darien Ripple, who preached the importance of healthy soil. For my Honors project I was put in charge of the composting program they have implemented for their Environmental Technology Center, which is of substantial size. I became intrigued to find out how local businesses of varying sizes can go about composting in their workplace. Organic materials like food scraps and landscaping trimmings make up a high percentage of waste that ends up in landfills. A Phoenix waste characterization study done in Summer 2014 shows that nearly half of the City’s residential waste is made up of compostable yard and food waste. While this study doesn’t take into account waste from business, we know that businesses like landscapers, restaurants and grocery stores contribute a large amount of compostable waste. A report from 2014 done by the USDA stated that the retail-level food loss was 43 billion pounds in 2010.

How large institutions compost Arizona State University’s Tempe campus is a leader in ASUCompostsustainable behavior and takes huge strides in incorporating composting into their waste diversion. Their waste management teams work closely with the school’s food service businesses to collect food scraps from their eating halls and events. They work with their landscaping crew to create mulch from plant trimmings and spent coffee grounds. Their success relies on communicating effectively to their compost providers, the workers in the kitchens, landscapers and janitorial staff. An added bonus that thrilled us at Local First is that ASU contracts with two locally owned businesses, Sonoran Waste and Singh Farms for their services.

How a local cafe composts ASU is a big institution with a lot of resources. So how does a smaller, locally owned restaurant handle composting? Enter Stephanie Vasquez, the owner of Fair Trade Café in Phoenix, which started composting a year ago. Her 20150828_114725biggest “challenge” was making a change and taking the first step. After connecting with compost provider Recycled City she decided to give it a try and quickly realized how easy it was. It was different, but different isn’t necessarily more difficult. Her staff, knowing that they were doing something that was making a positive impact on their environment and community, got excited and felt purposeful. They compost food waste, paper cups, coffee sleeves, napkins, stir sticks, pastry bags, and other paper products. Adding composting to her restaurant did add a new cost however, she pointed out that it was not significant and the money was practically being made up in trash bags alone. She went from using one large Hefty bag a day to one large Hefty bag a week.

Stephanie’s only regret is not starting composting sooner. She composts because it is responsible behavior and makes positive impact. People are starting to realize that sustainability is not an underground fad, but a driving force towards saving our world for future generations. It is going to take a collaborative effort from not only the government and individuals, but also businesses, which are influential members of society.

How a small office composts Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 1.17.50 PMIn the time I’ve been in the Local First Arizona office, I noticed that our trash had banana peels and apple cores galore. I also noticed we had a small empty box on the side of the building that had potential for a compost bin. A quick ask to the LFA team and voilà; our very own compost bin was created. We collect food scraps, compostable cups and plates from the office and once a week we pick up coffee grounds from our nearby coffee shop Tammie Coe. It’s been fun to see the change in the Local First staff’s garbage habits and has led to great conversations about why composting is important, and how we can better motivate business owners to start.

How to Get Started Adding compost to your workplace can be incorporated whether you do it yourself or work with a compost provider. Some companies across the state that can help you become successful composters include: Flagstaff: Roots Composting Tucson: Scraps on Scraps Tucson: Compost Cats Phoenix: Recycled City Phoenix: Sonoran Waste

Want help or more information? Email [email protected]. We also love to hear how your business is incorporating sustainable behavior so please reach out!