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Monday, February 9, 2015

Charlotte: A Land of Opportunities

A proactive city, Charlotte stands strong as a sustainability leader, especially in waste reduction. As Mecklenburg County Government (MCG) environmental manager, waste reduction, Laurette Hall is at the helm of Charlotte recycling successes; Laurette is a visionary who quietly, effectively implements her recycling plan for the county while forging lasting relationships.

CMS food waste collection for
compost effective system
The City of Charlotte is within Mecklenburg County; the city and county work closely together on community services, including materials management. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) - 164 schools and 145,000 enrolled students - is a prime example of the city and county working in unison for citizen benefit.

Dating back to 2011, Elemental Impact developed strong Charlotte relationships. Jake Wilson, MCG senior environmental manager, was named the February 2011 IMPACTOR of the month and honored in The IMPACT Blog article, A Man of Controversy, A Man of Action.

Concord Mills, a Simon mall in metro Charlotte, serves as the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) Shopping Mall Pilot and was the catalyst for Elemental Impact's work in the Charlotte area. Ei Partner HMSHost, Concord Mills food court concessionaire and the Charlotte Douglas International Airport foodservice operator, was integral to Ei's solid sustainability foundation in Charlotte.

one of the first CM donation collections
photo courtesy of HMSHost
Beginning in 2011, the SFCI Team worked closely with HMSHost and Simon on creating back-of-the-house (BOH) food waste collection for compost, food donation and plastic film recycling programs at Concord Mills. The ZWA Blog article, ACTION: Theme for the SFCI Shopping Mall Pilot, is an overview of the programs.

When Charlotte hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the city | county used the convention as an opportunity to expand existing recycling practices for the metro area. Facilities such as the Charlotte Convention Center (CCC) and the Carolina Panthers Stadium implemented food waste collection for compost as the city prepared for the convention. BOH food waste collection is now standard operating practice at the facilities.

In partnership with Charlotte-based ReCommunity Recycling, festive, well-designed recycling containers were strategically placed throughout the downtown corridor. Keeping with recycling best practices, each bin is paired with a trash container. ReCommunity operates the county-owned MRF - materials recovery facility for single-stream recycling.

Charlotte successes were highlighted at the 2012 Charlotte Ei Partner Tours hosted by Simon | HMSHost. Laurette and Jake attended the first day of presentations and tours of Concord Mills' impressive recycling programs. The IMPACT Blog article, Charlotte Ei Partner Tours, is a tours overview.

downtown recycling bin
In fall 2013 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 funded a Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte, NC Grant to GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC). To maximize its impact, the grant was extended for an additional year along with funding. Ei is a grant sub-grantee. The ZWA Blog article, Scaling up Composting in Charlotte, NC, details the grant goal, objectives and tasks along with listing partners | sub-grantees.

"Scaling Up" was used in the grant name as Charlotte has a solid food waste composting program compliments of Earth Farms, a state-permitted facility. The grant intends to serve as a catalyst to increase food waste collection for compost throughout the metro Charlotte area. The Ei FB album, Ei Partner Tours - Day 2, recounts an Earth Farms tour.

Earth Week 2014 marked the first official EPA Grant Team visit to the Queen 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. The ZWA Blog article, Charlotte Focuses on Food Waste with EPA Support, is an overview of the monumental visit.

Knights Stadium
The Ei Team returned to Charlotte in July and overlapped the grant with Ei initiatives. From Ei's perspective, the trip was exploratory in nature to determine if the tremendous Ei | Charlotte | MCG synergies warranted investment in formal programs, partnerships and | or other initiatives. The Charlotte Knights hosted a meeting at their stadium to introduce Ei initiatives and the EPA Grant.

During the visit, SMAT - Sustainable Materials ACTION Team - was formed to support the Grant and other Ei work. The ZWA Blog article, Ei Charlotte Visit: Busy, Productive & Fun!, is a recap of the powerful visit.

Validating the strong Ei | MCG relationship, Laurette attended the November 2014 Annual Ei Partner Meeting in Atlanta. Laurette presented on the extensive synergies & potentials and learned about Ei initiatives beyond Charlotte and materials management. The IMPACT Blog article, Ei 2014: A Year of Evolution, gives an overview of the meeting along with the history of events that built the substantial foundation in-place.

The Grant | Ei Team converged on Charlotte the week of February 2 for a series of meetings and tours at the major sports facilities, the convention center and local schools. SPC senior manager Anne Bedarf was supported in meetings with SMAT members: Sarah Martell of Innovia Films, Rick Lombardo of NaturBag, Tim Goodman of NatureWorks, and Sarah Martinez of Eco-Products.

Laurette, Eric & Kim after the
City of Charlotte meeting
For the February 2015 Charlotte visit, Ei founder Holly Elmore and Kim Charick of the EPA arrived a day early for Water Use | Toxicity and other Ei-specific meetings. Rob Phocas, City of Charlotte energy & sustainability manager, was first on the meeting itinerary. Though focused on Airborne Kitchen Grease, a proactive approach to a costly cooking by-product, the meeting was a perfect opportunity to update Rob on the EPA Grant status.

JR Stewart of Filtrexx treated Ei to a lovely lunch at McCormick & Schmick's downtown location to educate on the Garden Soxx, perfect for community & school gardens. With the strong food waste collection for composting at CMS, the Garden Soxx may prove useful as an educational tool to directly connect food waste to compost to garden produce.

A lovely dinner at Rooster's downtown location hosted by Eric & Betsy Dyer, local Grease Lock Filter distributors, was a perfect segue into the EPA Grant meetings the following morning.

The Knights were first on the meeting itinerary as a follow-up to the July meeting and subsequent conference calls. After an overview session including General Manager Erik Hassy and Executive Chef Joseph Marx of Ovations, the stadiums foodservice operator, Stadium Director of Operations Mark McKinnon led the group on a BOH tour to better understand the physical parameters for recycling logistics. Grant partners Sandra Clinton of UNC Charlotte and Jim Lanier with Earth Farms joined the Knights meeting. As the food waste hauler | destination, Jim attended most of the meetings.

Knights meeting group photo
The loading dock included ample space for food waste collection and source-separation of high value recyclable material. It was an inspiring visit and rewarding to witness the zero waste "team spirit" evident between stadium facilities and foodservice operations. With plenty of action points documented, the group said farewell to new friends.

Next on the day's itinerary was an introductory meeting with the CCC. As mentioned above, the CCC is a veteran to BOH food waste collection for composting and eager to take their program to next dimensions. CCC Food Services Operations Manager Steve Gorham hosted the meeting with CCC Assistant Director of Facility Services Roger Rochelle and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA) Procurement Manager Jeff Doerr attending.

CCC meeting
A primary discussion point was the role legal provisions play in zero waste success, whether with foodservice subcontractors or waste | recycling haulers. The ZWA Blog article, Contract provisions require team work necessary for zero waste success, documents the important role contract provisions play in creating an effective stage for food waste collection and source-separated material recycling.

Continuing with the common theme of saying farewell to new friends, the group collected business cards with promises of follow-up within an array of action points and information requested.

The final meeting of the day was at the Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, a NC charter school for the highly gifted scholar. Without a formal lunch program, the academy has unique challenges | opportunities not experienced by CMS-operated schools. With strong parental involvement, the school may excel in amazing recycling efforts with parent | student consciousness shifts.

Common within Ei travels, dinners serve as a relaxed venue to recap the powerful activities along with strategies on how to maximize potentials. The King's Kitchen was the perfect venue for dinner: 100% of proceeds are donated to the homeless and competent staff are those often considered "unemployable."

The final day began with a productive meeting and tour of the Charlotte Hornets Arena hosted by Andrew Chisholm, manager of arena & event services. With Mike Wann, Levy Restaurants (Levy) assistant director of operations,and Bill Becker, CRVA arena director of support services, in attendance, the necessary trilogy - stadium management, facilities management and foodservice operations - were present at the meeting.

After introductions and grant overview, the group toured the stadium front and BOH operations. It was exciting to witness the potential for refining the arena's current recycling practices, especially food waste collection for compost. Levy is the foodservice operator for Ei Supporter Georgia World Congress Center Authority, a founding Zero Waste Zones participant. A Levy manager recently transferred from the Georgia Dome to the arena; the Dome is the SFCI Event Venue Pilot with solid food waste donation and collection for compost practices.

Added bonus: a standard size baler is located near the waste | recycling loading dock area. It is nice to know equipment is in-place to source-separate cardboard, aluminum and other valuable material.

Kim w/ compost garden sign
During lunch, the team visited the Chantilly Montessori School as an example of the CMS impressive food waste collection for compost program. It was rewarding to witness the four and five year old children learn to sort their food and pour liquid from the beverage carton prior to recycling.The committed staff is integral to the school's success.

In addition, the school has a compost area complete with a tumbler, rain barrel collection, and raised bed gardens. Per the wooden sign, the NO to grass & weeds shows the school is careful to prevent weed seeds & pesticides | herbicides from contaminating the compost. The YES includes leaves, fruits & vegetables. 

The final EPA Grant Team meeting was with the Carolina Panthers hosted by Scott Paul, director of stadium operations, and attended by Delaware North Executive Chef John Morey and Operations Manager Jeff Kelly. In addition to an established BOH food waste collection program, the Panthers have solid recycling practices where cardboard is baled on-site. Over the past season, the Panthers recycled a total of 76.63 tons of materials, including 25.56 tons of source-separated aluminum. The food waste program diverted an additional 6.65 tons of material from the landfill. IMPRESSIVE!

Panther game-day tailgate recycling
photo courtesy of Jake
Jake oversees the Panther tailgate recycling program, a collaboration of many organizations | individuals: volunteers, City of Charlotte Solid Waste for game day collection, the Parking Lot Consortium for engaging the lot attendants, City Center Partners for their stewardship and media outreach, Bojangles sponsorship of bags & award gift cards, and ESPN 730 for sponsorship and support. The 2012 ZWA Blog article, Winning Panthers Recycling Season, recaps the collaboration necessary for a successful tailgate recycling program.

The 2014 | 2015 season broke records with 45.35 tons recycled at the home games, a 23% increase over last season's 36.76 tons recycled. Ditto on IMPRESSIVE!

At the Panthers' meeting, the focus was on Recycling Refinement, moving beyond landfill diversion, and how the Grant Team and SMAT may assist the stadium edge closer to zero waste. Front-of-the-house food waste collection, with first steps in the suites, was the meeting focal point. An action item is scheduling a call with industry leaders experienced in bringing a stadium to zero waste.

downtown Charlotte statue
SUCCESS: the Knights, Hornets, Panthers and the CCC gave a thumbs up on joining the grant program.  Anne will follow-up over the next weeks to complete the paperwork and discuss next steps. For a list of current Grant participants and to join the program, visit the SPC Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte website page.

The Ei Team intends to return to Charlotte midsummer for follow-up meetings on the city-wide Source-Separated Materials Recycling Template (S-SMRT). Atlanta serves as the pilot city and Charlotte is a potential template replication pilot city. The ZWA Blog article, Total Materials Management Approach, gives an update on the pilot and explains the approach.

As the S-SRMT took a side seat in the February meetings, the Grant will take the side seat in the summer meetings. The S-SRMT is an avenue for Ei to continue support to Grant participants beyond its expiration date.

The Ei FB album, Charlotte Visit: EPA Grant & Beyond, is a pictorial recap of the excellent visit.

After a team wrap-up, the group dispersed excited to segue the powerful discussions into action. Laurette summarized the scenario with perfection: Charlotte is a Land of Opportunities!

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