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Food-waste recycling grows, pressuring compost makers

John Seelmeyer

Atlantis Casino Resort got lots of warm media attention last month as it launched a program to recycle organics food wastes and the like through a Carson City composting facility.

For the owner of Full Circle Compost, meanwhile, the contract with Atlantis and Waste Management is a mixed blessing.

On one hand, the organic waste from the Atlantis and other restaurants and grocers in the region jumpstarts the efforts of Full Circle Compost to sharply boost its production and spread its fixed costs over more tons of finished compost.

At the same time, however, the higher production pressures company owner Craig Witt and his son, Cody, to grow the market for finished compost both quickly and profitably.

Cody Witt, a recent graduate of the master’s business program at the University of Nevada, Reno, says the company hopes to line up at least 20 retail locations in the Reno area to handle its product once the spring gardening season arrives.

Those locations, handling mostly bagged compost, will augment Full Circle’s retail location along U.S. 395 between Minden and Carson City where consumers typically buy bulk compost by the pickup load along with bulk sales at garden centers in the region.

And the pressure to build sales channels is all the greater, Cody Witt says, because the near-halt of residential construction with the onset of the recession slashed the company’s sales of compost for new landscaping projects by more than half.

At the same time, the flow of organic material into the company’s composting facilities on the grounds of the minimum-security Northern Nevada Correctional Facility continues to grow.

The Atlantis, for instance, estimates it will send 80 cubic yards of organic material monthly to the composting facility more than enough to fill three good-sized dump trucks and it predicts that the amount will grow.

Organic material also flows to the facility from hotels and restaurants around Lake Tahoe where South Tahoe Refuse runs a regular pickup route and grocers such as Costco and Whole Foods.

Still, Cody Witt continues to knock on doors of potential sources of organic material that could produce eight to 12 cubic yards a week. Step-by-step, he figures he’ll get to the company’s goal of 1,000 cubic yards of organic material a week.

He counts on growing desire of business owners and managers to do the right thing, even if composting doesn’t necessarily save them any money.

“You have to have someone in every hotel who champions the process,” he says.

At the Atlantis, for instance, Food and Beverage Chira Pagidi wants the program to serve as an example to others about the steps that can be taken to improve the environment for future generations.

It’s important, too, for participating hotels and restaurants to make the commitment to train their staffs to remove contaminants plastic straws, for instance from the stream of food waste.

And Full Circle faces competition, both for the ingredients of compost as well as sales of the finished product to gardeners.

R.T. Donovan Co. Inc. in Spanish Springs also is drumming up sources of organic material, working closely with Castaway Trash Hauling of Lockwood.

The Spanish Springs composting company is handling material from locations such as John Ascuaga’s Nugget and Great Basin Brewing Co.

On the other side of the business selling finished compost to improve Nevada’s notoriously lousy garden soils Craig Witt is working hard to position Full Circle’s production as a branded product that so superior to its competition that it warrants a premium price.

For 10 weeks, organic material at the Full Circle facility is broken down by microbes that get an occasional fresh breath of oxygen and a bit of water as a specialized turning machine moves down each 400-foot windrow.

With nearly a mile of windrows to be turned these days, the turning process is barely completed before it’s started again.

That turning, says Witt, is critical to ensure that pathogens that can be borne on food wastes are killed by sufficient heat in the composting process.

SIDEBAR

The story of a straw

Sustainability campaigns often reflect the drive of a champion in the organization, someone who wants to do the right thing.

But sometimes, the effects show up directly on an organization’s bottom line, says David Hansen, director of engineering for Embassy Suites at South Lake Tahoe.

A while back, Hansen says, leaders of an environmental group were scouting hotel properties at South Lake Tahoe for a conference.

They weren’t considering Embassy Suites.

But when they took a lunch break at the property, and one of the meeting planners noted that Embassy Suites at South Lake Tahoe uses paper, rather than plastic straws.

A well-informed member of the wait staff detailed how the hotel is diligent about recycling organic wastes, and the planners ultimately decided the recycling effort was enough to warrant a $100,000 meeting at Embassy Suites.

Says Hansen, “Today, we refer to it as ‘the $100,000 straw.'”

NNBW staff