Zero Waste-OSU Spring Game

When I talk to people about Zero Waste efforts there are basically two reactions. “That’s so cool!” and “What did you screw up to have to do that job?” As I’ve said before, I think I have the coolest job in the world. Do I dig through bags of garbage? Sometimes. Is it gross? Most times. But here’s my question to you. Why aren’t you doing the same thing?

And now I’m about to get on my soap box….Food waste has a bad rap. Consider the name “waste”. Food waste is actually a RESOURCE and a great solution to so many environmental problems. By composting and preventing food waste from going to the landfill, I am helping preserve air quality, natural resources, build healthy soil, reduce trucks on the road, prevent methane creation to name a few. I think about parents that want to invest in their children’s future and most times that looks like sending their children to good schools or paying for a college education. Aren’t I doing the same thing? Ensuring the future? Think about actions you can take in your life to create positive change for others in many years to come.

With that, I want to take you for a little behind the scenes action on what Zero Waste looks like for the Sodexo Dining Team at the Ohio State University. So let’s set the stage. It’s Spring Game about mid fifties but it feels like 40….at least to me. A lacrosse game is first so gates open at 10:30 am and the Spring Game is scheduled to start at 1:30.

I arrive at the Shoe around 8 to check everything out. As always, the OSU Athletic Facilities Team has all the infrastructure in place and ready to go. What does that mean exactly? The OSU Facilities Team ensures that all the dumpsters and compactors are in place at the right time and picked up accordingly. The compost and recycle containers are set up in the suites and throughout the stadium. Smitty, Don, Pete and the team rock!!

The Sodexo team ensures the correct containers are at all the concession stands and educates the 600+ non-profit group staffed concessionaires. This sounds simple but there is a tremendous amount of preparation.

Corey Hawkey, OSU Sustainability Office and leader of the OSU Zero Waste program, is organizing his team of volunteers in the concourses to educate fans about separating their waste into composting and recycling. It takes a concerted effort by everyone on the team to make Zero Waste happen!

These are the Zero Waste containers used in the suites and club level.
East Richland Christian School (ERCS) set up their own compost/recycling system in their concession stand to capture their waste stream. ERCS is one of the non-profit groups that work in the concession stands to raise money for their organization. They drove 130 miles to get to Columbus.
Education about separation procedures that we use in the concession stands.
The Sodexo team goes through every bag of compost to ensure there is no contamination from the concession stands, suites and stadium kitchens. It's tedious but worth it!
We collected seven totes of compost that went to Price Farms to be composted. I took the picture before we filled the last container. I promise I can count! =)
We donate any food items that meet food safety standards to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank for distribution to the Columbus area food banks to feed the hungry.

For hours, I walk the stadium and tour the kitchens, suites and concession stands speaking with employees about compost and recycling to make sure they understand expectations and the importance of their participation. I’m not alone in these efforts either. All the members of the Sodexo team are doing the same thing as they go about their other duties as well. I have to take a moment to recognize my fabulous dumpster diver friends – Molly Kurth, Nicole Hartner, Vickie Graves and Danny Phillips. It’s good to know there is someone right next to you that will laugh histerically at your misfortune of getting smacked in the face with nacho cheese. No, seriously. That stuff really happens. And it’s good to laugh about it with friends. =)

I would like to thank Corey Hawkey (OSURecycles on Twitter) for the cover photo I used for this blog post.


St Louis Composting-A Food Waste Journey

I was recently in St. Louis for a sustainability education conference and part of the trip was a learning journey about food waste.   We started the day at a Sodexo client partner location, followed the waste in transit to St. Louis Composting and then back to the Missouri Botanical Gardens where the compost was being used.  Here is a glimpse into that day.

Food waste is placed into the yellow rolling containers where it is picked up and transported to St. Louis Composting. This picture is compliments of Holly Fowler. Thanks!

The food waste is picked up from area restaurants and transported by Blue Skies Recycling.  This is an important and often absent link to getting food waste to composting locations.  So now the food waste has arrived at St. Louis Composting, a 100 acre composting facility right on top of a landfill.  I find the irony of that amusing and it makes me smile.

A methane flare resides in a fenced area that continues to burn the methane emitted from the landfill. Standing right next to the methane flare was unnerving. I could see the dark shadows fluttering back and forth on the ground as the gas was burned but I couldn't see the flames. The thought of standing in a cloud of methane (real or imagined) made me uneasy. I was happy to move on.

St. Louis Composting uses a wind row method to compost waste resulting in mixes that are available for purchase by the community.  They make several blends like Black Gold, Rain Garden and Rooftop Garden mix.  According to my notes, they handle about 300 tons of green waste, 200  tons of brown waste and 300 tons of food waste per week.  They are seeking more food waste from area restaurants and they have the capacity to handle it although long-term they are concerned about space.

The wind rows are 200 feet long and 10 feet high. They grind the yard waste into smaller pieces, mix it with the brown and green waste and form the materials into these large rows. Food waste is cut into the rows and covered immediately to assist in the composting process and to prevent pests. Water is sprayed on the ground to prevent dust with the trucks. You can see that to some degree represented in the bottom of the picture.

The compost sits for about 2 weeks and then a wind row turner comes in and turns the compost to increase oxygen which increases microbial activity and therefore heat.  The compost maintains a 130-160 degree temperature.  The compost “recipe” changes based on the amount of brown, green and food ingredients available as well as the weather.   Water is added if additional moisture is needed and any runoff is collected in a runoff pond.  You know the compost is ready when the temperature starts to drop.

Composting infrastructure varies across the country as do state regulations. When I try to identify composting opportunities for my clients, I first go to created by BioCycle magazine.

This was the first time I’ve visited a wind row composting facility of this size.  I was struck by the lack of smell and general cleanliness or organization.  I’ve seen food waste.  I’ve smelled food waste.  Neither are pretty and I expected something a little messier (for lack of a better word).  I was struck by the mixture of science, technology and intuition it takes to create great compost and St. Louis Composting has it all.

Following the compost, we end back at the botanical gardens where compost is used to enrich the soil and grow the amazing plants and flowers.  The gardens were amazing and I don’t think a single picture I took will do them justice but I feel obligated to leave you with at least one.

I thought growing apples in this way was interesting so I chose to share this picture instead of some of the more exotic flowers.


Living Lands and Waters

I had the great opportunity to hear Chad Pregracke from Living Lands and Waters speak about his river restoration project. I was very interested to hear from Chad because his accomplishments include motivating 70,000 volunteers (yes, I said volunteers) to remove 7 million pounds of garbage out of the Mississippi and surrounding rivers.  Amazing accomplishments!! 

So this is how the day started.  Since he was our guest, I introduced myself and offered Chad a cup of coffee. He thanked me but said he brought a Red Bull so he was prepared. So I thought “ok….a Red Bull.  Clearly he isn’t a morning person and he needs a little extra something.  That’s cool.”  I had no idea what I was in for. 

A presentation from Chad was nothing like one would expect. It was more like trying to cage a wild animal.  Upon introduction he ran through the seats like a prize-fighter getting into the ring.  There were fist bumps to the front row, shout outs to the back row and scattered high fives to anyone he could reach. There was also a little cardio….jogging in place and I’m pretty sure there were a few high kicks sprinkled in there too.  I think he had more than one Red Bull but I can’t be sure. 

At 15, Chad started shell diving in the Mississippi.  He would spend 6-8 hours a day in the water diving.  He described that he got air through a garden hose powered by a go-cart type engine.  The boat was basically anchored by his body weight and the boat moved swiftly along in the currents.  The river was black so he gathered shell-fish by feel and placed them into the basket that was fastened by a rope around his upper torso.  The currents of the Mississippi were so powerful that if you lifted your head into the current it could literally take you away.  Although the river was black, he could hear the sounds of the river.  The catfish in early June sound like frogs and drum fish click.  This is when Chad realized that the river was a living thing and that it needed cleaning.  No one else seemed to be doing anything about it so he decided to take on the challenge.

Living Lands and Waters has pulled 55,301 tires from rivers.

I’m not going to recount the story because it will be a dismal substitution for what I experienced.  However, you can hear it from Chad from his book or view a video by CBS. 

Chad had awesome energy and a fantastic sense of humor but he also had an incredibly moving story that brought me to tears several times throughout his presentation.  Yes, I said tears.  This coming from someone that believes there is no crying in foodservice!!  His story was incredibly empowering because he had a dream to clean up the rivers and continued to overcome obstacles to the point his dream became a reality.  Who does that these days?  Not many people.  And Chad started at age 17.  Think about what you were doing at 17.  Were you changing the world?  I wasn’t. 

Do you have a dream of something you want to accomplish?  Maybe it was something you started but gave up or never even had the courage to attempt.  Think of Chad, his story and the amazing impact he has had to the environment, communities and people’s health because he didn’t quit.  How are you going to spend your days on this Earth?

All images except the featured photo are from the Living Lands and Waters website.  I didn’t get any pictures because I was afraid Chad might ask me to join his antics.