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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Charlotte Focuses on Food Waste with EPA Grant Support

During Earth Week 2014 Charlotte received a boost to their strong food waste reduction focus when a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region IV Grant Team visited the grand city for three action-packed days. With a plethora of back-to-back meetings and tours scheduled, the team recruited participants for the EPA Grant program.

Kim Charick & Anne Bedarf
on a Charlotte tree-line sidewalk
In late 2013 the EPA Region IV issued a "Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte, NC" Grant to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), University of North Carolina Charlotte, IDEAS CenterEarth Farms Organics and Elemental Impact are sub-grantees under the SPC umbrella. In addition, the NC Division of Environmental AssistanceMecklenburg County and Waste Reduction (a private company that works closely with the Mecklenburg County food waste group) are active team members.

For an overview of the EPA Grant goal, objectives and tasks, visit the ZWA Blog article, Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte, NC. The EPA Grant includes a program to assist Charlotte foodservice operators starting food waste collection for compost programs via start-up cost funding along with training and support.

Ei founder Holly Elmore, SPC project manager Anne Bedarf and EPA environmental scientist Kim Charick converged on Charlotte to join the local Grant Team members for the tours and meetings series. Thanks to Meckenburg County Government (MCG) environmental manager Laurette Hall, the first day was filled with tours of county facilities to experience the material and food waste recycling practices in-place.

The Grant Team Ladies
First on the agenda was a tour of the Metrolina Recycling Center operated by Re-Community Recycling. Consistent with Re-Community's educational commitment, the MRF - materials recovery facility - reception area is filled with empowering recycling displays geared towards children. In addition, the MRF has an auditorium for more formal community programs.

The MRF tour was fun and impressive! Whenever touring MRFs, especially well-run ones, it is a strong reminder that contaminants are trash, whether put in a recycling or garbage bin. Within Ei's Recycling Integrity - maintaining maximum material value with minimal energy expended - contamination is defined as an expensive trip to the landfill. 

After the MRF tour, the team visited The Metro School, where cognitively disabled students ranging in age from 3 to 2receive high quality instruction in academics based on grade appropriate NC EXTEND Content Standards. The Metro School served as Mecklenburg County's recycling and food waste pilot school with stellar success.

Jan Burlee shows Anne & Kim
the simple, effective collection system
The key ingredients for success in-place at The Metro School are: 1> staff support & buy-in, 2> captivated audience and 3> a simple system with clear signage. MCG senior environmental specialist Jan Burlee found practical collection buckets with mesh lined inserts at a local home improvement store. As many students are individually fed in classrooms, the compostable bag company provides small aerated totes for use by the staff at meal time. Grant Team member Earth Farms collects the clean food waste for composting at their state-permitted facility.

Students learn to plant and grow their own food at the school's greenhouse and garden. Complete with a compost pile for woody waste and garden scraps, the students experience first-hand nature's perfect mechanism for converting waste into nutrition for the soil and plants.

The delicious lunch at Tupelo Honey CafeNew South Flavors | Scratch-Made Fun, was the perfect opportunity to regroup and prepare for the afternoon meeting with the MCG jail. An added benefit is Tupleo Honey Cafe food waste is collected by Earth Farms for compost.

The Metro School Greenhouse  
At the meeting, Captain Michael Greer and Sargent John Maness educated the Grant Team on the jail foodservice operations and expressed strong interest in joining the grant composting program. First, the Grant Team must satisfy the odor and rodent concerns. With many food waste composting systems in-place throughout Charlotte, the team will arrange a site visit for the jail staff to alleviate current concerns.

Lani Wenman, Keter Environmental Services regional operations manager, joined the team for dinner at Rooster's Wood-Fired Kitchen and Wine Bar. Dinner served as a lovely introduction to Lani, who attended the second day meetings and tours. With the final trip meeting at Carolina Place, a Keter waste & recycling managed mall in Mecklenburg County, the second day tours were an excellent opportunity to educate Lani on the EPA Grant. Ei Partner Keter is a full-service environmental management company specializing in the commercial waste and recycling industry.

For the second day initial tour, Concord Mills (CM) - the Sustainable Food Court Initiative Shopping Center Pilot - was a great place to witness success through collaborative effort. CM general manager Ray Soporowski welcomed the Grant Team along with Lani and gave an overview of SFCI Pilot history and success.

The SFCI food court bin provided
by Ei Partner CleanRiver
Ei Partner HMSHost, CM food court concessionaire, is committed to back-of-the-house food waste collection for compost along with donating wasted food donation. HMSHost food & beverage manager Drew Drayton educated the team on the food waste collection practices in-place. Impressive, the food waste bin was contaminant and unpleasant odor-free!

In addition, CM was a pioneer in developing a plastic film recycling program for malls; the group was treated to a tour of systems in-place. The ZWA Blog article, ACTION: Theme for SFCI Shopping Mall Pilot, gives an overview of the program development and launch. 

CM success is grounded in strong collaborative effort with mall management, HMSHost general manager Brian Shetron and his staff, and the third party contractors, many Ei Partners, working in unison towards common goals. The ZWA Blog article, Concord Mills: The Power of "WE" in ACTION, chronicles the foundation building that propelled the programs into action.

During the mall tour, Ray committed to explore a front-of-the-house food waste collection pilot in the mall food court. The goal is to schedule a summer Charlotte visit to discuss logistics and create an implementation plan for early 2015, after the holiday shopping frenzy. 

Ray with his Orwak baler,
the workhorse of the plastic film
recycling program
Indicative of their pioneer spirit, the CM team hosted the 2013 Charlotte Ei Partner Tours for two days filled with presentations | tours infiltrated with education, camaraderie and fun! Ray and Brian chronicled their pioneering journey to solid, effective food waste collection for compost, wasted food donation and plastic film recycling programs.

Ray and Brian are happy to share their experiences with potential Grant Program Participants to relieve their rodent, odor and other concerns. New participants often request validation from those experienced with food waste collection practices.

The IMPACT Blog article, Charlotte Ei Partner Tours, is an overview of meetings | presentations while the ZWA Blog article, Bring the Possible Out of Impossible, chronicles the tours. Ei's strong MCB relationship was evident at the Ei Partner Tours, one of the reasons Ei is a grant sub-grantee.

Following the CM tour, the Grant Team along with Lani traveled to Dallas, NC to tour Earth Farms' composting facility. A tradition, Jim Lanier of Earth Farms treated the group to lunch at the North Star Seafood Restaurant prior to the tour. Lunch was a perfect venue for Jim to educate on his background, business model and genuine commitment to compost's vital role in soil rejuvenation. 

food waste @ Earth Farms
awaiting its mix with a carbon source
Earth Farms is a well-run composting facility that survived a 500 year flood last July when most of the expensive farm equipment and operations were destroyed. Resilient as soil, Earth Farms shows no evidence of the devastation less than 9 months ago. It takes tremendous tenacity, commitment and faith to retain focus and rebuild operations, rather than drown in defeat. The metro Charlotte area is fortunate Jim Lanier calls this fine area home.

The final dinner was reminiscent of the Charlotte Ei Partner Tours. Ei Supporter Betsy Dyer with Grease Lock Filters joined the Grant Team for a lovely dinner at AZN Asian Cuisine, the Ei Partner Tours finale dinner location. In addition, Sandra Clinton with UNC Charlotte met the group for dinner. The ladies-only dinner was fun and filled with potential for future work.

Breakfast with Sustain Charlotte executive director Shannon Binns was an excellent start to the third and final Charlotte Grant Team visit. It was an enthusiastic meeting culminating with Sustain Charlotte joining the Grant Team. Well-connected, Shannon intends to share his vast connections along with promoting Grant Program participants and successes.

Shannon Binns with Kim & Anne
After the breakfast meeting, MCG senior environmental specialist Nick Crawford joined the group for the SouthPark Mall tour hosted by Ron Rentschler, mall director of operations. After an overview of the Ei | SouthPark long-time relationship and prior tours, Ron showed the group the plastic film recycling program implemented last year in association with the American Chemistry Council. It was interesting to understand how two different malls developed plastic film recycling systems to complement their facility and operations.

Next was a back and front-of-the-house food court tour where Ron was excited to learn about the EPA Grant Program and support. Once SouthPark formally joins the Grant Program, the game plan is to begin with back-of-the-house food waste collection followed by the front-of-the-house.

After the SouthPark tours, the Grant Team met with the HMSHost Charlotte-Douglas International Airport folks about the EPA Food Recovery Challenge. Since the airport has an on-site in-vessel composting system, the Grant Program was not applicable. With their impressive food waste reduction and wasted food donation systems, HMSHost Charlotte Airport food and beverage manager Matt Wissman began the FRC application process during the meeting. The ZWA Blog article, EPA Food Recovery Challenge: Region IV launches FRC in hospitality sector, recaps the FRC.

Kim learning how the food donation
program works
Carolina Place was the final meeting in the three-day Charlotte visit. Lani facilitated a meeting with mall general manager Susan Barwick and operations manager Randy Davis. After introductions and the grant overview, the consensus was to move ahead with joining the EPA Grant Program. With minimal to no risk for the participant, the grant provides incentives and support to inaugurate food waste collection practices as standard operating practices.

Success was the theme for the EPA Grant Team Charlotte Visit! Each EPA Grant Program invitation extended was received with enthusiasm, either by acceptance or a request for more information on food waste collection practices. Pioneers like Ray Soporowski and Brian Shetron at Concord Mills, who are willing to open their back-of-the-house doors and share their experiences, are critical to program success. 

The Ei FB album, April 2014 EPA Grant Team Charlotte Visit, chronicles the powerful three days of tours and meetings. It was amazing to witness Charlotte's strong food waste reduction foundation along with the enthusiasm to catapult their composting status to new dimensions.

With the full spectrum of support from local, state and federal government, higher education, non-profits and private enterprise for food waste composting, Charlotte is a city staged for success!  


  1. Thanks for sharing this. It's encouraging to see the number and variety of groups collaborating to reduce food waste in my hometown!

  2. So interesting article! Food waste is dangerous because it evaporates poisonous gases which are bad for the environment respectively for us. I am inspired by this article because now I know that there are people who care about the nature.

  3. Charlotte's strong food waste reduction foundation is simply amazing, i admire what they all do to reduce the food wasting.