Spartanburg-based Atlas Organics delivered 20 tons of organic compost to Greenville’s Reedy River Farms and Legacy Charter Elementary School on Friday. The delivery signaled continued growth for the state’s Don’t Waste Food SC program.
“Twenty tons is an impressive beginning with much more to come,” said Anna Lange, recycling market development manager with the state Department of Commerce. “This amount of material composted not only reduces disposal but also generates economic activity by turning a potential waste into a valuable commodity.”
Launched in July, the Don’t Waste Food SC program is a collaboration among the state Department of Commerce, Department of Health and Environmental Control and Office of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling to reduce food waste in the state by 50 percent by 2030. The state agencies partnered with multiple food waste recycling companies across the state to meet that goal. One of the partners is Atlas Organics.
“The problem with food waste must be attacked by both the public and private sector. The public-private partnership creates the best foundation for success,” Atlas founder Gary Nihart told UBJ earlier this year.
Food waste accounts for 21 percent of the nation’s waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. South Carolina produced an estimated 607,000 tons of food waste in 2015, according to DHEC. Food waste creates a nationwide loss valued at more than $160 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Atlas, which opened a compost facility at Greenville County’s Twin Chimneys Landfill in June, collects food waste from businesses and facilities around the state and brings it back to the composting facility, where it is combined with mulched yard waste. The mixture then undergoes a 45-day process that includes aeration and monitoring.
That process converts the waste into reusable compost for agricultural, landscaping and home gardening customers. Compost helps produce higher crop yields, decrease the use of chemicals and increase water retention, meaning less water use, according to Joseph McMillin, CEO of Atlas Organics.
Atlas plans to produce about 12,000 tons of compost from combined waste per year. So far, the company has diverted more than 2.65 million pounds of food from the landfill, according to the Commerce Department.
The company’s latest delivery could spur benefits for the local food system. About 15 tons of compost was dumped at Reedy River Farms’ newest location on Pendleton Street in the Village of West Greenville, where various vegetables will be grown and sourced to restaurants such as American Grocery, Coastal Crust Pizza and Bacon Brothers.
“Compost is basically the most important production input in our business. There isn’t really any fertility to speak of in urban environments,” said George Dubose, founder of Reedy River Farms, which operates on one acre of land. “It’s not hard to imagine that some of the food we sell to restaurants might wind up back in our compost.”
Atlas also dumped about five tons of compost at Legacy Charter School’s garden, which was started in 2011 to promote good health. The compost will help the school maintain the garden. Its produce is sent home with students and staff as well as to the cafeteria, according to health and education consultant Karen Brown.
The compost could also boost educational opportunities for students.
“Our elementary scholars are actively involved in planting, tending and harvesting from our school garden. This compost donation will allow us to involve more lessons aligned to science standards and the experience of hands-on science, as well as cross-curriculum lessons,” said Margaret Scieszka, math and science coach at Legacy Charter School.
The Don’t Waste Food SC program also continues to grow. In October, the city of Charleston will begin a food scraps composting initiative for restaurants in the Upper Peninsula area, according to Lange. It is partly funded by DHEC.
For more information, please visit scdhec.gov/dontwastefoodsc.
3 simple steps to prevent food waste at home
Step 1: Planning meals
- Plan your meals for the week before you go shopping.
- Consider the quantities of each item you’ll need for a recipe to prevent overbuying.
- Evaluate the foods in your refrigerator or cabinet to avoid buying what you already have.
Step 2: Careful shopping
- Choose loose produce over pre-packaged. It will help you better control the quantity you need. And avoid pre-cut fruits and veggies, which tends to spoil more quickly. It will also save you money.
- Try to avoid buying in bulk just to save money. It won’t matter if you don’t use the food before it spoils. Grains, beans and pasta are good items to purchase in bulk.
- Request that the butcher repackage meat if there’s more than you need.
- Make sure to use reusable shopping bags and ensure that produce is stored carefully in that bag to prevent bruising.
Step 3: Smart storage and prep
- When unpacking groceries, move older products to the front of the refrigerator or pantry and put new products in the back. You’ll most likely use the older stuff first before it can expire.
- Freeze foods such as bread, sliced fruit or meat that you won’t be able to eat in time.
- Store bananas, apples and tomatoes by themselves and store the fruits and vegetables in different bins.
- Use storage bags or containers designed to extend the life produce.
- Wash berries before storage in the refrigerator to prevent mold.