Recycling the leftovers: Food waste recycling could divert tons from landfill

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[ PHOTO: The Bees Ferry Compost Facility processes food waste for Charleston County’s Commercial Food Waste Recycling Program. Atlas Organics is investigating launching a composting operation in Greenville County at Twin Chimneys Landfill. Photo provided. ]

 

How to divert tons of food waste from landfills was the topic of conversation for generators, recyclers and consumers gathered for the daylong Upstate Food Recovery Networking event Oct. 6 at County Square in Greenville.

Everyone from food waste creators to compost sellers connected on how to shepherd a “table to farm” movement in the Upstate at the event, hosted by the SC Department of Commerce.

In the morning session, Gary Nihart of Atlas Organics said his operation now collects food waste from multiple Upstate sites, but hauls to a composter in Columbia. Atlas Organics is investigating launching a composting operation in Greenville County at Twin Chimneys Landfill, he said. Nihart anticipates processing up to 12,000 tons yearly for sale to agriculture, landscaping companies and home gardeners.

Michelin North America’s headquarters in Greenville has ramped up recycling over the last three years, said Martin Royaards. The facility that just houses offices generated 25,000 pounds of waste per month, he said.

Now the complex encourages recycling at staff members’ desks along with food waste recycling. Michelin now recycles 3 tons to 4.5 tons per month.

“The hardest thing is to convert people’s behavior,” Royaards said. However, once they make the switch, “they really take ownership.”

One challenge in food recovery is making sure that compost collection either saves money or breaks even because consumers are not willing to pay higher prices so a producer can recycle food waste, said Kim Brunson, recycle and solid waste program manager with Publix.

More than 600 of its grocery stores divert food waste, Brunson said. Food the stores cannot use goes first to food rescue organizations and food banks, like the Upstate’s Loaves and Fishes, then for animal feed and then to composting operations, she said.

In addition to composting, food waste can be dehydrated and made into pellets that can be used for vermiculture and agriculture or burned for fuel, said Scott Harke of Divergent Energy. His company sells machines that grind up and dehydrate food waste on site. Greenville Technical College’s culinary program has installed one machine in its kitchens for recycling food waste, Harke said.

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