ARCHIVED  April 9, 2010

Composting becomes part of office recycling efforts

Does your office break room get a little, well, funky by the end of the week, as the remains of sack lunches mingle with the coffee grounds in the garbage can? A local company has a solution that can save your company some money while saving room in the landfill – and clearing the air.

Clean Air Compost, a 2009 spinoff of Clean Air Lawn Care in Fort Collins, will collect items that can be composted – all animal parts, liquids, sauces, liquor, soft drinks, milk, coffee grounds and filters, vegetables, paper goods, waxed/corrugated boxes, eggs and egg cartons – from businesses that sign up and agree to sort the items for pickup. The discards are then hauled to a registered composting facility where they are turned into compost to be used to enrich growing soil.

The service quickly attracted interest from some big players, according to Kimber Korsgaard, Clean Air Compost representative. 

“Hewlett Packard, Columbine Health Systems, Anheuser Busch, Wal-Mart, Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant – we looked to companies that had a lot of castoffs and we’ve had great response,” she said. “The Rio Grande was one of our first clients and we haul away 15,000 pounds of food and compostable waste from there each month.  From Columbine Health Systems, we take an average of 38,000 pounds of compostables a month. And that’s just two businesses.  We also have Opera Galleria, the Trail Head and several others.  The list keeps growing.”

The result is a substantial diversion of waste from local landfills.  About a quarter of the country’s food (26 million tons) gets thrown into the garbage each year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. And that’s on the light side. A recent study by the University of Arizona puts the figure  closer  to 50 percent once food waste from supermarkets, restaurants and convenience stores is taken into consideration.  The study estimates that those areas throw out 27 million tons between them each year.

On the local level, food waste is the number one material by weight being tossed in the Larimer County landfill. This doesn’t just take up space. Decomposing food waste creates methane gas, and methane traps 23 times as much heat in the atmosphere as the same amount of carbon dioxide. And while county residents divert about 30 percent of their waste through recycling and other activities – matching the national average in 2008 – approximately 40 percent of what makes it to the dump could be composted instead, according to Clean Air’s website.

Payoff in dollars and cents

Composting is certainly better for the environment but there’s also the possibility of improving a company’s bottom line.  Columbine Health Systems joined the effort in January because it fit an internal philosophy, said Heather McNeill, Columbine’s procurement manager. “It’s part of our sense of community to give back and also reduce our carbon footprint.  We’re doing everything we can to be as green as possible.”

But the effort has also paid off in dollars and cents. 

“One of our buildings was able to reduce the trash dumpster, actually eliminate it altogether, saving on trash-hauling costs,” McNeill said. “That was incredible.  I was hoping to see a financial benefit but didn’t really expect it but it happened.  We are really excited about this.”

Sunflower Farmers Market in Fort Collins just signed on with the Clean Air service April 1 with similar goals. “The first thing is that it’s the right thing to do,” according to store director Leland Kehler. “And it fits very well with our business model of natural and organic foods and healthy living.  Our goal is to get to where we have zero impact on the landfill.  And we see it as a potential cost savings.”

Businesses aren’t the only ones jumping into the composting mix.  Lesher Middle School, an IB world school in Fort Collins, has had students sorting lunchroom castoffs since the beginning of the school year.  Lesher Principal Tom Dodd was easy to convince when he was approached about participating in the program by  Pete Hall, Poudre School District safety and environmental coordinator and director of facilities. 

“I grew up on a dairy farm, hunting and fishing, and I love the outdoors, and I think we need to take care of it,” Dodd said.  “I’ve always been an advocate for reducing our impact on the environment.  They knew that and also knew I’m a progressive thinker who wants to do new things.  They put me in touch with Clean Air Compost and we started composting.”

There was a learning curve, Dodd acknowledged.

 

“It was a little slow getting it off the ground.  We had to get buy-in from the kids and we needed to teach them how to sort everything,” he recalled.  “Our head custodian, Eric Caron, and a group of kids volunteered to stand by the bins and directed people:  ‘That’s recycling, that’s for the landfill, that’s compostable.’  It’s really about creating awareness.” 

That awareness has resulted in more than 45,000 pounds of waste from Lesher being diverted from the landfill since the program began in August.  

Idea catching on

The composting idea is catching on with cities around the country, Korsgaard said. In fact, the city of Fort Collins helped Clean Air Compost secure a stimulus grant to get the ball rolling. 

Clean Air Compost began as a joint venture between Clean Air Lawn Care and National Recycling, two Fort Collins companies.  In April 2009, the respective owners, Kelly Giard and Carey Smith, created Clean Air Recycling & Waste Services, the official name of Clean Air Compost.

The company was awarded a Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity Fund grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment in August to expand the program. The grant funding runs through June.

Clean Air’s long-term plan is to offer a curbside composting option to residential areas. 

“That’s our ultimate goal,” Korsgaard said.  “First we need to establish the financial foundation that will support a residential side so it’s affordable to the customers.”

For more about Rob’s Bike Service visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnLE7Tv4oFg

Does your office break room get a little, well, funky by the end of the week, as the remains of sack lunches mingle with the coffee grounds in the garbage can? A local company has a solution that can save your company some money while saving room in the landfill – and clearing the air.

Clean Air Compost, a 2009 spinoff of Clean Air Lawn Care in Fort Collins, will collect items that can be composted – all animal parts, liquids, sauces, liquor, soft drinks, milk, coffee grounds and filters, vegetables, paper goods, waxed/corrugated boxes, eggs and egg…

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