I recently posted a couple articles about food waste in the news section of sustainablefoodservice.com. One was on the regulation of food waste, and the other about a restaurant group that has installed an on-site composting machine called the eCorect. I don’t normally post articles about specific restaurants going green, but this one brought up some specific thoughts for me.
What does sustainability mean when it comes to composting?
In the big picture, there are a lot of interworking systems that go into composting, and therefore carbon footprints. Large-scale industrial facilities have enormous infrastructure including aerators, heavy machinery and some sort of distribution system while small-scale systems like the eCorect have a large initial carbon footprint in the manufacturing of the machinery, and continue to consume energy throughout the machines life.
Smaller, traditional composting bins don’t use any power or need a huge infrastructure, but can’t process large amounts of material or any meats or dairy. They are usually just not practical for most restaurants. Other systems like large vermiculture systems are simple to build and can process large amounts of material, but you still need the space on-site to process the food waste. There are also anaerobic digesters and several types of on-site composting machines.
Despite the carbon footprint from the infrastructure of large-scale composting facilities that most restaurants will use, composting is the most sustainable option – there have been studies done… Ideally we would all have a compost bin out back, but that is obviously not practical nor is a composting machine in every restaurant.
I do think there is a place for every system depending on the foodservice operation. Small, rural restaurants may have enough room to have their own compost pile, an on-site composter or send their food scraps to a farmer, while urban restaurants are generally going to use composing machines or a commercial composting facility with regular food waste collection.
Whichever service is available or system used, restaurant owners need to start thinking about food waste if they are not already. As noted in the article from the UK, regulations on organic waste are on their way. San Francisco recently enacted mandatory composting, and many areas will soon follow as they build composting infrastructures.
This should be viewed as a good thing for restaurant operators. Composting whether with a hauler or on-site is cheaper than waste hauling and will only get more economical as landfills run out of space and gasoline prices continue to rise.