(KMTR) -- The city of Eugene
is celebrating a growing new success of turning trash into a treasure… of sorts. A new program is creating compost out of food waste, greening gardens, saving businesses cash and adding new work.
Back in November 2011, the city launched the commercial food waste composting program called “Love Food Not Waste.”
Today, more than 50 businesses are now involved, composting their food scraps instead of tossing them in the landfill. (For a complete list of the businesses involved, click the following link: http://www.eugene-or.gov/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_0_235_371548_0_0_18/Participating%20Businesses.pdf.)
The landfill is a growing issue in Lane County. Every year more than 220,000 tons of trash gets dumped in the Short Mountain landfill.
“It's mind-blowing… and disgusting,” says Charlie Tilt, a Eugene business owner. “You see perfectly useful things down in that pit.”
While it might not sound like it, one of those useful things is food.
“The city of Eugene is producing over 20 thousand tons of food waste that are going into the landfill, half of which comes from commercial businesses,” says Mark McCaffery, the Love Food Not Waste program manager for the city of Eugene.
Turning garbage into something greener is exactly what the city of Eugene is doing now, turning garbage into compost.
“You can't just throw everything away. I mean there's still use for it,” says Dave Stanley, a Eugene business owner.
Dave Stanley is the owner of “Not Your Mom’s Sandwich Shop,” a sandwich-based restaurant on the edge of the Whiteaker-area and downtown Eugene. The shop is participating in the commercial compost program.
“There really is still use for it, we want to make sure that what we can't use somebody else can,” says Stanley. “We want to waste as little as possible.”
What isn’t served in the shop goes into green tubs for compost, including fruits, veggies, meat, dairy, breads, bones and table scraps.
Virtually all of the shop’s waste is compostable, cutting their garbage to almost none. Stanley estimates that his business wouldn’t have to empty its trash for an entire month if it didn’t smell. Most of it is non-reusable, non-recyclable food wrappers.
“Instead of getting two huge dumpsters picked up a week, we'd be getting one dumpster picked up every couple months,” says Stanley.
One of the haulers participating the in the commercial food composting program, Sanipac estimates that a takeout restaurant could save about 13 dollars a month through composting. A sit-down restaurant could save around 87 dollars a month through composting.
“It's worth it in the long run and its really easy and like I said, instead of throwing everything in one big can, it's another trash can,” says Stanley.
Next door to Not Your Mom’s Sandwich Shop, the look is different for another Eugene business, but the outcome is the same.
"It's nutrition that could go back to the soil and grow again,” says Charlie Tilt, owner of Hummingbird Wholesale.
An organic bulk food dealer, Hummingbird Wholesale is another commercial food waste composter. It composts to help support the food it relies on for business.
“So it just is a basic concept that makes sense for a person who's connected to the land and the rhythms of the land,” says Tilt.
Most of the business’ food waste comes from the lunch room, going in to small two gallon buckets that are emptied, just like trash cans, when they’re full.
From small buckets the food waste takes a big move to transform.
Rexius and Lane Forest Products take the food waste from Eugene’s participating businesses and get to work with the large scale operation.
Jack Hoeck oversees the commercial food compost program at Rexius.
“So that material gets hauled to us, we put a pad down, dump the material on top of this pad of compost overs, so it has been through the process once,” says Hoeck.
Rexius crews then sort through the compost for a few days, looking for plastics.
“We make sure it's clean, we mix it up and that's what you're seeing there is this mix of compost and the incoming food waste,” says Hoeck.
After mashing through a grinder, the compost is layed out and biology gets to work.
“We put it on our air system and it goes through another composting process at that point,” says Hoeck.
Over several weeks, the compost is remixed twice.
“The heating cycle kills any weed seeds, pathogens, anything that might be in the material,” says Hoeck.
About three months later…
“It's finished and it's ready to be screened and then sold as a compost,” says Hoeck.
What used to be garbage is now mostly odorless and garden-ready.
“It's a great analogy for sustainability,” says Hoeck.
So far, participating businesses have turned 150 tons of food waste into compost.
“The early adopters in the program have been really good to work with,” says Hoeck.
The city says it’s hoping to get business to turn 3,000 tons of food waste into compost in 2012. Things could grow from there if the compost is kept clean from trash, something shop owners like Dave Stanley says is a small challenge for a big business benefit.
“You're saving other things other than just money, you're saving resources, you're saving time, you're saving gas, I mean so much stuff,” says Stanley.
For Eugene, compost could bring savings for the taxpayer.
“The less you put in the landfill, the longer it can stay active,” says McCaffery.
It could also bring work for the processor.
“More volume, so it certainly adds if not more jobs, more hours for the people who are here,” says Hoeck.
And finally, the program could bring more good things to the environment.
“A tremendous impact that's being reduced by a small step that each one of us can be taking that's not so hard,” says Tilt.
Both Rexius and Lane Forest Products say they’ll be selling the commercial food compost by spring. Rexius will likely have the product priced similar to its garden compost, which is made of yard debris, costing about 18 dollars for a cubic yard.
The Love Food Not Waste program is open to any business at this point, large or small. For more information on the program, click the following link: http://www.eugene-or.gov/lovefood.