Food Waste Partnership Makes Tucson More Sustainable

City of Tucson delivering food waste from around Tucson to the San Xavier CoOp Farm and the Compost Cats. This article was written by LFA Intern Caroline Digilio. 

An innovative food composting program has begun diverting food from landfills at a remarkable rate here in Tucson. In October 2014, a partnership was formed between Local First Arizona members Bashas’ and Food City, The City of Tucson, U of A Compost Cats and the Tohono O’Odham Nation. The tri-institutional public-private partnership is the first of its kind in the country and has been successful in significantly improving waste diversion efforts from landfills here in southern Arizona.

Food waste diversion at Basha's.

At Bashas’ and Food City locations, perishable food items (that are unable to be donated to local food banks) are put into barrels and picked up by The City of Tucson who then hauls the barrels to the Tohono O’Odham Nation. Next, the U of A Compost Cats process the foods scraps into compost. The compost is then used in agriculture and landscaping. In 2014, the City of Tucson and Compost Cats entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement to deliver composting services to businesses around Tucson. Since the program started, Basha's has noticed that it helps their employees understand food waste better and has made their staff more conscious of how to reduce food waste. 

The Compost Cats helped out LFA at the SAVOR 2016 Culinary Festival to divert food waste.

The U of A Compost Cats began in 2011 with the mission to end food waste in southern Arizona. Since their start, they have diverted over 10.4 millions pounds of organic waste. The Tohono O’odham Nation’s San Xavier Co-operative Farm hosts and shares equipment with the student led group, which allows them to process compost on a large scale. The City of Tucson hauls food scraps four times a week from over 30 businesses throughout Tucson including grocery stores such as Bashas’, Food City, and Fry's. They also pick up landscape clippings and compost waste from the zoo. The ability to haul large amounts of compost to and from the farm has increased food diversion considerably. Many more businesses are eager to join the program; the amount of food diverted will grow exponentially in the future. By 2017 they will have 120 pick up stops for compost around the city. The Compost Cats were recently recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for their commitment to sustainable food management.

Through innovative thinking and mutual cooperation, these institutions have worked together to significantly reduce food waste here in Tucson. The benefits of a public and private partnership are apparent from the continued success of this program. The program is an outstanding example to follow for other retailers interested in beginning a composting program. We look forward to witness the continued success of this exceptional composting program. 

If you are interested in learning more about reducing waste, creative solutions for reuse, or to learn more about composting, please join us for a Sustainability Seminar on Waste on May 25th. Local First Arizona, Mrs. Green's World, Green Living Magazine, and Laura Tanzer are hosting a Sustainability Series once a month. They are free and open to business owners, students, individuals, and anyone who wants to learn about those making a difference for sustainability in our community. Please RSVP here.