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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Safety & Education - A Necessary Marriage

With the National Restaurant Association embracing the diversion of food residuals from landfills via their Elemental Impact | Zero Waste Zones partnership, permitted destination facilities for post-consumer food residuals is an industry focus.  With the significant pending demand increase for post-consumer organics collection options, the composting and waste to energy landscape is on the verge of a major shift.

At the foundation of all NRA activities is food, employee and customer safety.  Plans are underway to create a strong foodservice operator educational platform with webinars, videos and training sessions related to zero waste initiatives. The platform will educate on the safety measures important for handling food residuals during source-separation through collection by a third party.

On one hand, food residuals are a valuable component to compost and waste to energy recipes.  On the other hand, once food begins the decomposition process, dangerous, toxic gasses may be created when improperly handled.  Thus, the strict regulations surrounding the permitting and operating of compost facilities.

Earlier this month tragedy struck at a California composting operation when two young men died on the job, highlighting the importance of state regulations and the role of the U.S. Composting Council.  In a formal press release, Composting Council: AnOngoing Commitment to Safety at Composting Facilities, sends it condolences to the deceased men's families and reinforces the USCC safety emphasis.  Safety is of primary concern to us”, stated Michael Virga the Executive Director of the USCC, “we are committed to the safety of our members’ employees and the welfare of the communities in which they operate.”

For more information on the incident and the related investigations, read the Waste & Recycling article, Autopsies on composting victims inconclusive.

Educational programs and industry safety go hand-in-hand.  With Virga at the USCC helm since mid September (see ZWZ Blog post, USCC prepares for a new era!), industry education supporting composting safety is at the forefront of USCC activities. 

Post-consumer food waiting
collection for composting @
GA World Congress Center
On October 20 the USCC offered a free webinar, Adding food residuals to yard trimming compost sites, addressing three important aspects of incorporating food wastes: 1) acquisition, where will the food come from and how will it get there; 2) operations, what are the Best Management Practices for handling the food scraps and what changes to the facility site, equipment and operations will be needed, and 3) impact mitigation, how to prevent and address potential negative air and water impacts.  The PPT presentations may be downloaded on the USCC site link provided above.

Education extends beyond the composters to supporting industries and non-profits working to develop effective post-consumer food residual collection systems within seated dining establishments, Quick Service Restaurants and large, institutional foodservice operations (stadiums, universities, conference centers to name a few).  

Not only is human safety imperative, it is important to ensure quality compost is produced that nurtures the soil and crops rooted in the soil.  Consumer-facing packaging (what the food is served in to the consumer) must be made from 100% compostable material AND be effective from the restaurant operator perspective. Not any easy feat!

Starbucks hosts the Cup Summit.  At its essence the Summit gathers industry leaders together to explore how to create a cost-effective, recyclable cup that holds liquid for specified periods of time and temperature. Currently, the Starbucks focus is on creating a cup to cup option, where spent cups are recycled into new cups.

The Coalition for Resource Recovery, the New York City Global Green division headed by Annie White, is exploring options available for NYC's tremendous daily food discarded into landfills, at a high dollar and carbon cost. Committed to integrity through education, CoRR members toured a potential organic destination facility, Peninsula Composting in Wilmington, Delaware. The Global Green blog, From the Field: Digging into NYC's Compost, gives details on the tour.

Scott Seydel, Global Green Chair & Ei Advisory Council Chair, produced an excellent video, Peninsula Composting, of Peninsula's Gore covered static pile operation tour.  

Cooper ready for a fun sea gull chase
Located near the ocean, sea gulls flock to the compost piles when the Gore covers are removed .  After using many unsuccessful sea gull deterrent processes, Peninsula came up with a simple, clever solution:  Cooper the Border Collie!  What a job for the happy dog  - chasing birds!

The Sustainable Food Court Initiative, an Ei | NRA joint venture, mission is to bring zero waste initiatives to food court operations. Inherent within the pilot programs is understanding the training tools necessary to support effective post-consumer organics collection systems. With pilot projects launching, the SFCI team is developing an educational packet for foodservice operators on the WHAT, WHY & HOW's of compostable packaging.  

Education is the backbone of safety.  With collaborative effort on educational platforms from government, trade associations, non-profits and for-profit partners, the composting industry will maintain its overall excellent safety record as it evolves to include post-consumer organics into existing and new operations.

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