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Thursday, February 4, 2016

2016 USCC Conference: Soils for a Greener World

In late January industry professionals traveled from across the nation to the 24th Annual U.S. Composting Council (USCC) Conference - Soils for a Greener World - hosted at the Hyatt Regency Riverfront Hotel in Jacksonville, FL. Though a treacherous winter storm kept several speakers and award recipients snow bound in the Northeast, the conference was well attended by those eager to participate in the excellent program.

Pre-conference activities included a wide array of half and full-day workshops ranging from Aerated Static Pile Composting - Applications and Advancements to Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop along with the Annual meeting of the Compostable Plastics Task Force. The day ended with a Grand Opening Reception in the exhibit hall.

The two-day conference program included opening and closing plenary sessions along with a wide array of concurrent sessions throughout each day. Networking is an important conference component. In addition to the opening reception, the program included 45-minute morning & afternoon networking breaks in the exhibit hall and a lunch was provided in the hall on the first day.

With opening keynote speaker Mathy Stanislaus, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator - Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, snowbound in Washington D.C., closing keynote speaker Mitch Kessler of Kessler Consulting shifted to opening keynote. 

An excellent speaker, Mitch used humor to make important points in his The Critical Role of Organics: Where Are We Heading? presentation. In addition, Joe Lamp'l, Star of "Growing a Greener World" gave a superb, entertaining plenary presentation including points on how to build the compost story.

In the afternoon, Elemental Impact (Ei) hosted a well attended 90-minute panel presentation, Getting to Zero Waste: Composting at Special Events, sponsored by Ei Partner NatureWorks. Moderated by Ei Founder Holly Elmore, the panel showcased the Zero Food Waste Journeys at two prominent Atlanta annual events, Afternoon in the Country (AITC) and RayDay. Both events were hosted by the Inn at Serenbe within the idyllic Serenbe Community, where nature, passion, creativity and community are valued.

Doug presenting
Sustainable Food Court Initiative Co-Chair Doug Kunnemann of NatureWorks took the session leadership role with an Ei overview and an introduction to the Zero Food Waste Journeys supported by the SMAT - Sustainable Materials ACTION Team

Ei Partner Ken Fraser with EcoProducts followed with event details, focusing on the extensive pre-planning necessary for success. Beyond site visits, strategy sessions and meetings, SMAT hosted a two-hour Compostable Food & Beverage Packaging Education Session emphasizing the critical role packaging plays in post-consumer food waste composting.

Doug came back to the podium for the event synopses. With beautiful weather, paid Waste Ambassadors and one caterer, the 2015 RayDay event in early October was literally zero food waste via on-site food waste composting at Serenbe. The caterer brought the prep food waste to the event, closing the loop on zero food waste. Due to extensive pre-planning there were minimal lessons learned in the nearly perfect event conditions. 

On the other hand, AITC was riddled with extraordinary challenges on an early November event day. A rainy day, coupled with prior ten straight days straight of rain prior to the event, greeted organizers, participants and guests with tremendous mud during set-up and throughout the festivities.

Ken @ podium
Of the 20 committed volunteers, only four showed up ready-to-work in the extreme conditions. And work they did! Cardboard waste & recycling bins disintegrated into the mud. The farm tractor promised at 11:00 a.m. was finally delivered at 4:00 p.m. as the event closed. Note the tractor was necessary for the compost pile construction. ... and there were 90+ chefs | restaurants participating at AITC!

Next at the podium was Kristen Baskin, Let Us Compost (LUC) owner, who orchestrated the on-site event food waste composting at Serenbe. In her presentation, Kristen gave an overview of the successful on-site composting practices at both events. 

Throughout the events, Kristen kept event staff | volunteers efficient weighing food waste bags as they arrived at the compost area, cleansing the food waste of contaminants and sorting compostable flatware for grinding prior to adding to the compost pile. LUC prepared an impressive 2015 AITC video of the on-site food waste composting practices.

The Ei Team after the panel
As the final panelist, City of Atlanta Zero Waste Manager Boyd Leake spoke on the city policy implications from the zero food waste success at the annual events. In addition, Boyd played an integral role in the Zero Food Waste Journeys under his Community Environmental Management umbrella.

The Zero Waste in ACTION (ZWA) Blog article, Zero Food Waste Journeys: Successes, Challenges & Lessons Learned, gives an in-depth overview of the AITC zero food waste journey; the ZWA Blog article, Simple, easy, proven steps culminate in zero food waste success, chronicles the RayDay zero food waste success. The Ei FB albums, Afternoon in the Country, a zero food waste journey and 2015 RayDay, are event pictorial recounts.

SMAT members Rick Lombardo of NaturBag and Sarah Martell with Innovia Films, who participated in the journeys via product donation, education session presentations and event support, joined the panel audience.

Before segueing into Q&A, Doug announced a formal NatureWorks Zero Food Waste Journeys Global Case Study is in process with an anticipated spring release - EXCITING!

The NaturBag | NaturTec Team
@ their conference booth
Ei Partners were prominent at the conference via exhibit hall booths, as Board Members (USCC: Sarah Martinez with EcoProducts | BPI: Vineet Dalal with NaturTec), panel presenters and meeting with good industry friends.

A conference highlight was Sublime Soil Founder Dean Lavallee's presentation on his impressive vermiculture systems for Park Avenue BBQ & Grille food waste. Dean owns the 28 year strong 8-store restaurant concept. It was inspiring to witness a restaurateur's creative initiative for waste reduction | elimination in the nation's second largest industry.

On the final conference day, the afternoon plenary session opened with the Annual US Composting Council Awards Ceremony; USCC Executive Director Frank Franciosi served as the Master of Ceremonies. Industry icon Dr. Rufus Chaney with the U.S. Department of Agriculture was a focal point from numerous perspectives.

Dr. Chaney congratulates Dr. Das
BioCycle Magazine Editor Nora Goldstein presented the Jerome Goldstein Lifetime Award, the Composting Council’s highest recognition, to Dr. Chaney. The highest honor is named on behalf of Nora's father. Dr. K.C. Das, University of Georgia Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering Professor, received the 2015 Rufus Chaney Award for his extensive industry accomplishments over the past decades. USCC Board Member Dr. Sally Brown with the University of Washington studied under Dr. Chaney and requested a photo with her mentor.

With Mathy still snowbound in D.C., Cheryl Coleman with the EPA pinch hit as the closing plenary keynote for the Composting Council Conference - she was stellar!

Post-conference the USCC hosted the annual Equipment Show & Demonstrations. It is the largest “live” equipment demonstrations for the composting and wood recycling industry in the U.S.  

The Ei FB album, 2016 U.S. Composting Council Conference, gives a conference pictorial recap from Ei's perspective.

Conference attendees departed educated on new technologies, inspired by industry success and eager to follow-up with new friends.

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