This is the fourth part of a four-part article about how distributors can help their customers compost.

Some might wonder why it would be a problem for food scraps or other compostable material to end up in a landfill. After all, aren’t those materials biodegradable?

“Generally, the breakdown of materials, the biodegradation of them, requires oxygen in the process,” says Ashkin. “And the problem generally with landfills is there’s no oxygen in them, so the materials are literally buried and remain unaffected.”

That’s why, when baseball fans enter Target Field this season, there isn’t a standard trash bin in sight, says Kilsdonk. There are only compost bins and recycling bins. Nearly every disposable item that might be provided to fans is either compostable or recyclable. (There are still traditional waste bins behind the scenes, he says.)

Such a program, of course, makes sense for a baseball stadium, since food scraps comprise so much of its waste. That might not be the case for a smaller office building that doesn’t even have a cafeteria.

It’s up to distributors to help their customers determine whether a composting program is practical by providing waste diversion statistics and conducting cost-benefit analyses, says Ashkin. But for most buildings, there’s almost always something that can be composted.

The University of Washington team discovered that a building’s restrooms present additional opportunities for diverting compostable waste from a landfill. Paper towels, which are compostable, tend to make up the majority of a restroom’s waste stream. The building services staff chose to replace its buildings’ restrooms’ main trash receptacles with compost bins and then add smaller trash bins in less noticeable locations, such as under the sinks. The staff also labeled the main receptacles as paper towel-only and labeled the paper towel dispensers as compostable, so that building occupants better understand where their waste will be going at the end of the day.

Getting that message across to buildings occupants is another way distributors can help their customers. The University of Washington building services staff provides newsletters and other composting educational materials throughout campus and pushes for articles about the recycling and composting program in the campus newspaper.

There is inevitably a cost associated with developing a composting program: Foodservice ware often must be changed over to compostable products; janitors may need to take the time to empty an extra waste bin, depending on the system used; and the education of janitors and building occupants takes time and money.

Then there’s the dilemma of what to do with the compost. Ashkin suggests distributors think outside of the box. The end result of composting is soil amendment. Some buildings may be able to find a need for that soil amendment, such as landscaping around the complex or a local school with a horticulture program or maybe a nearby farm.

But in the vast majority of cases, says Kilsdonk, a building must pay for the services of a waste hauler that can handle the compost, which typically requires a different type of collection truck. Such waste haulers tend to only reside in larger markets that justify the cost.

On the flip side, since a typical waste stream has so much compostable material, buildings may discover their non-compostable trash bins are filling up less frequently. In some cases, a building may be able to reduce the frequency of its normal waste collection, offsetting some of the cost, says Kilsdonk.

As a building service contractor, Marsden might not see a direct profit from helping a customer establish a composting program, says Kilsdonk. But if Marsden wants to keep that customer, he says it better be prepared when the customer asks for composting help.

The same goes for distributors. 

previous page of this article:
What's In The Waste Stream?