Earlier this month, Bioenergy Devco hosted experts in institutional waste management in the third in a series of events to discuss Maryland’s new organics waste diversion law and best practices for implementing organics diversion programs among Maryland’s generators of organic waste.
- Matt Steiman, Energy and Livestock Projects Manager, Dickinson College Farm
- Zach Hetrick, Director of New Business Development, Reduction in Motion
- Christine Meket, Baltimore BU Sales Manager, Republic Services
- Keith Losoya, Owner-Partner, Waste Neutral Group
In this blog post we share highlights from the discussion, including tips for institutions looking to start their own organic waste recycling programs. Watch the full event here.
- Diverting waste—and organics, in particular—is critical to reducing our carbon footprint
There’s been a large desire from our customers [to separate and recycle] food waste.
Maryland primarily exports its waste. In the Baltimore area, think of all the large haulers and small haulers. They either have transfer stations like Republic and Waste Management, or they have a contract with a transfer station. Commercial and industrial waste in Maryland is primarily hauled to Virginia or hauled to Pennsylvania. Think about how inefficient it is for a compactor to be picked up by the hauler, brought to a transfer station, emptied and then reloaded into long-haul trailers to go either to Pennsylvania or Virginia. It’s extremely wasteful, and it has a huge carbon footprint that we would be reducing by bringing whatever we can bring out of that waste stream.
This is a critical piece to meeting sustainability goals and to being environmentally responsible.
Food waste comprises a great deal of the solid waste that has historically gone to landfills and incineration. We take what used to be considered disposable waste that goes to landfills and incinerators, we recover it and we send it to be processed into a new product: compost for soil augmentation. This has allowed us to assist large institutions—hospital, educational and commercial properties, the early adopters—with achieving their goals of sustainability and composting their food waste.
We were excited when Bioenergy DevCo started developing their processing facility. With the new organics diversion law in Maryland that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023, and all the volume of waste that will be coming online that needs to be diverted for composting, we definitely need more infrastructure.
- Organic waste diversion starts with waste separation…
When it comes to institutions, food waste and organics as a whole are not your predominant waste stream, which means we really have to take a different approach to diverting organics than the larger food producers for whom organics is the primary waste stream.
Start with an audit to truly understand what waste you have and where it’s coming from. We want to figure out what type of organics you have, where it’s located, how it’s being generated, who’s generating it and why. Focus on 100% quality versus 100% quantity. So instead of trying to capture all the organic waste material you identify in your audit, focus on the targets that will result in the highest quality material to begin your program and build from there.
We always recommend first targeting areas and items that impact the numbers, but with minimal operational disruption. We want to make sure we are aligning the waste flow with the workflow. Sometimes this is as easy as putting out a new bin, but other times it really requires working with the people, understanding how they do their job and designing the separation strategy around that.
What we do with a potential customer that has a large volume of food waste is schedule time for that compactor to come to our transfer station. We dump it. We have a representative from Bioenergy Devco that can look at the waste, identify what within the waste stream is considered contamination and then work with the customer to identify where [the waste] is generated. And then we develop the education to get that separated and determine the volume that remains, so we can come up with an appropriate hauling schedule.
A lot of universities and commercial properties don’t have the resources to commit to the sort of operation where you close the loop on site and are able to compost your food waste. That’s where we come in. The first thing we do is work with your team—dining facilities, etc.—to color coordinate the waste streams so that it becomes easy muscle memory very quickly for your operations to adapt to it. This is one thing that we get feedback from all the time like, “Wow, we thought this would be a process engineering thing that would be very difficult.” But it’s not.
- …And getting your people on board
The goal here is to get your people involved and empower them to be part of the solution. Without the buy-in from the folks at the front lines, it’s going to be hard to reach your goals. Recycling is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. You need to keep engaging with your staff, educating them and finding opportunities for improvement.
I encourage everyone, if you’re thinking about doing this, to have everybody involved. Have all the stakeholders involved so they understand that you’re very interested in this happening.
- The benefits are clear
This is the right thing to do and it’s green and environmentally beneficial.
There is another reason that this is very important. It’s much more economical.
- And so are the challenges…Again, the importance of your people…
This program doesn’t work without a large educational component.
Be mindful of that first impression to the frontline staff, and of taking your time to plan things out and engage them before starting—so that everyone’s on board and excited and feels like they’ve bought in to organics recycling before you roll it out.
Getting [staff] to really comply is a big challenge. That is our biggest challenge, whether it’s in composting or regular co-mingled recycling.
Stakeholder engagement is really important. But not everyone has the same values. When you’re talking about institutions, something that a lot of them have is very tight budgets that are made ahead of time. Things are unexpected. If you can say you’re going to be saving money on your recycling bills by making this extra effort, a lot of times that’s motivation. I think you have to present all of that picture, and that sometimes gets different stakeholders committed.
- Case Study: Dickinson College
The college farm is both an educational program and a working farm. So, we serve the liberal arts college at Dickinson College through a variety of disciplines, but we’re also here for students to get some life experience and get their hands dirty and blow off some steam, and then we return that effort back to the campus by feeding the community.
Right now, most of our food waste goes to composting, but we are also involved in anaerobic digestion. Our major feedstock at Dickinson College Farm is food waste from the college cafeteria. We collected about 137 tons [of food waste] in 2019.
We take both pre- and post-consumer waste. Everything that the chefs peel, trimmings from apples and potatoes and lettuce, as well as the food they don’t serve if they have too much product—that all gets ground up into pulp.
We have the same type of compost containers for the residence halls on campus, so students can opt in to putting their food waste in a bin outside of the residence. We do find that the residence hall compost is the most contaminated with plastic because it’s not well monitored, whereas the dining hall dish room is all managed by regular staff.
Not only is the college being more sustainable, but they’ve cut their trash bill in half. Between the food waste composting and other recycling, the dining hall has gone from two dumpster hauls a day to one. So that enabled them to remove one dumpster from their loading dock and free up some space, as well as cut down their trash bill quite a bit.
In addition to cutting down the trash bills and providing more nutrients for the college farm, [anaerobic digestion is] a carbon offset. The college farm is actually a net carbon sink because of the process.