Search This Blog


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Rebirth of Fertile Earth

Elemental Impact (Ei) is honored to welcome the first ZWA guest blog article by Melissa Selem, Ei program administrator for nearly three years. It is thrilling to witness Melissa segue her Ei experience into personal passions.

Saying Ei is a strong supporter of composting is an understatement. It’s no secret, Ei’s founder Holly Elmore, is a soil gal, and it shines through her work. From providing education at conferences to bringing together industry leaders for the Compostable Food & Beverage Packaging Value Chain meetings, to helping Scale Up Composting in Charlotte, NC – compost is integral to Ei. As Ei’s Program Administrator for 3 years, I learned quite a bit about composting, and chose it as the focus of my work.

I proudly introduce, Fertile Earth Foundation (FEF), a non-profit focused on uniting and growing the composting community in South Florida. FEF has a rich history beginning in 2008, and evolved into the sole organization dedicated to composting in the region. Among other accomplishments, they successfully completed a composting pilot with the City of Miami, showcasing that composting could be implemented and run successfully in the area. After some years, the powerhouse of women leaders that ran FEF were called to other pursuits, family, business, school. FEF took a hiatus and spent some time in a cold-compost; today, new seeds are sprouting amidst the powerful foundation already built. FEF is officially re-born.

As the new Executive Director of FEF, I bring renewed vision and a fresh perspective to the organization, informed by my time at Ei as well as my psychology and community health background. I believe a supportive community is critical for a thriving compost ecosystem. Cornerstone works like those of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (an Ei Strategic Ally) on the importance of diverse infrastructure and the vast benefits of composting for the environment, society and economy, all shape my thinking and focus.

FEF’s revised mission is:
to catalyze a diverse composting network throughout the South Florida community by educating and connecting people to support sustainable food systems and build healthy soil.
When many people and organizations, large and small, make compost, this forms a diverse and strong network, the foundation of a resilient composting ecosystem. In this vein, FEF strives to catalyze such an ecosystem through education, mentorship and connection. The goal being that compost is made throughout the community, from backyards, gardens, nature centers, schools, farms, community gardens up to larger scale commercial facilities.

At the core of this ecosystem are people. Part of FEF’s service is making educational experiences around compost accessible to individuals and organizations – building community along the way. FEF is developing a calendar of events, classes and workshops for all things composting. From introductory composting to in-depth topics such as trouble-shooting, building bins, and interactive workshops. FEF also provides a coached compost system set-up requiring a 6-month commitment where individuals are mentored through the full compost life-cycle; creating community experts in the process.

An illustration of the diversity
of life in soil.
Where Ei’s focus is building a strong supply chain for composting via the corporate sector, FEF mirrors this in the residential sector, while each collaborates with government, academia, and NGOs to accomplish a common goal. The soil’s microbial community is at the heart of both Ei & FEF’s efforts. Healthy soil is packed with microorganisms – one teaspoon of soil holds more microorganisms than the entire human population. Our soil is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of our society. Soil is our lifeline, growing our food, cleaning our air, filtering and holding water. Compost feeds the soil and organizations like FEF & Ei are intent on ensuing she is well fed.

The journey is just beginning, I invite you to join FEF, via our email list, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, learn with us and act with us!

How can you help feed the soil? 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Zero Waste: breaking down myths & establishing standards

Over the past decade zero waste evolved from a buzz word to an emerging industry standard for materials management. Inherent within the evolution are growing pains, misconceptions and an identity crisis.

When the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) launched at an acclaimed 2009 press conference, zero waste was a youthful buzz word without grounded definitions and standards. Crafting the ZWZ Criteria required creativity to develop challenging yet feasible program parameters. It was a zero waste frontier filled with pioneers figuring out how to shift wasteful industry protocol into practices respectful of resources and the bottom line.

In the early years zero waste became synonymous with recycling | food waste composting. 

... and then major waste haulers introduced single-stream recycling as the only offered recycling service in many communities. As documented in the Container Recycling Institute (CRI)'s December 2009 Understanding economic and environmental impacts of single-stream collection systems white papersingle-stream recycling increased diversion from landfill rates yet decreased recycling rates.

Ei Chair Scott Seydel at MRF
single-stream recycling material 
Thus, the dichotomy between diversion and recycling rates arose. Zero waste metrics were determined based on an initial destination other than landfill - diversion from landfill - without regard to the final destination. Per CRI Executive Director Susan Collins, approximately 25% of material collected for single-stream recycling is ultimately landfill-destined due to contamination levels. If a community or company utilizes single-stream recycling, diversion rates often overstate actual recycling rates degrading integrity within zero waste metrics.

Note single-stream recycling is delivered to a MRF - materials recovery facility - where it flows through a series of belts, blowers, optical sorters, human sorters and other mechanisms until the material is separated by type. The material is baled and sold in the commodities market. Contaminated material is hauled to a landfill; the MRF pays hauling charges and landfill tipping fees after it incurred the sorting expense.

Elemental Impact (Ei)'s definition of contamination: an expensive trip to the landfill!

... and then there is downcycling where a valuable material is made into in a product destined for the landfill. A common example is when clean PET bottles (water | soft drink bottles) are made into clothing or reusable grocery bags. IF the product is 100% PET, the item is recyclable yet quantities rarely justify the recycling process. Often other ingredients are added in the manufacturing process rendering the product "trash" at the end of of its useful life. 

Is extending a material by one life, instead of supporting a perpetual lifecycle, recycling? An important point to consider the next time a sports team or company announces they are "greener" because they now use uniforms made from "recycled" bottles.

Another side effect of PET clothing are the tiny plastic shards released in the washing cycle. The plastic shards flow into our waterways adding to the microplastic pollution poisoning marine life. Treehugger's post Your cloths are polluting the ocean every time you do laundry gives an overview of one of the biggest ocean pollution sources.

... and then there is incineration |  gasification | waste-to-energy. Florida law classifies "burning trash" for electricity as recycling. In the SunSentintel article County planning to burn its way past recycling standards, the controversial law is addressed via Palm Beach County's new incinerator announcement. In the article, Drew Martin of the Sierra Club is quoted:
"Recycling means you reuse something and it has new life. Burning something is the end of a life."
Are communities | companies overstating, or falsely stating, their diversion rates by including incinerated material in their zero waste stats? The topic is controversial and often the basis for heated discussions.

.... and then there is how can 90% be zero? A common misconception is the industry defines zero waste as a 90% diversion from landfill rate.

Founded in 2011, the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) plays an imperative industry role defining zero waste standards and protocol. At the annual National Zero Waste Business Conferences (NZWBC) business leaders gather to share their success stories, learn from their colleagues, and explore defining industry standards. At its foundation, the USZWBC educates on how zero waste practices make good business sense and the importance of integrating zero waste into corporate policy and culture. 

On March 4, 2013 the USZWBC announced the Zero Waste Business Facility Certification Program (ZWBFC) with the issuance of the first third-party issued Zero Waste certifications to three Whole Foods Market stores in San Diego County. 

The ZWA Blog article,Third-Party Certifications Edge Industry Towards a Zero Waste Economy, validates the important role third-party certification plays in defining industry standards. In addition to introducing the ZWBFC along with its specifications, the article features Green Seal and BPI Compostable Packaging Certifications as examples of established programs. Below is the article opening paragraph:
Third-party certifications play a valuable role for evaluating products and services. Independent review / testing ensures the product manufacturer proclamations are valid and follow industry standards. In addition third-party certification is instrumental in setting standards and protocol within evolving industries. 
Within the ZWBFC certification criteria, each of the previously mentioned industry misconceptions | challenges are addressed:

Diversion vs. recycling rates - companies are required to understand the final destination of their material; recycling rates are in accordance with final destinations.

Downcycling - extending a product by one useful life is not considered recycling.

Incineration |  gasification | waste-to-energy - burning material is the equivalent of landfill.

USZWBC Executive Director
Stephanie Barger with Board Member
Gary Liss
90% recycling rate - zero waste is defined as a 100% reduction | reuse |recycling rate; however, the 90% rate serves as the baseline to begin the zero waste certification journey; a challenging yet feasible benchmark for companies to achieve.

Zero waste is a journey with an ever-expanding path to explore and define. With the ZWBFC clearing confusion on initial misconceptions | challenges, industry pioneers are exploring new frontiers. The value chain impact is an emerging frontier with many questions:
  • How does the supply chain's material management practices impact a company's zero waste policy and rate? Can a company claim zero waste if their raw material suppliers generate landfill waste? 
  • How does the company's product end-of-life impact its zero waste policy and rate? Can a company claim zero waste if their product is packaged in "trash" and | or the product is landfill-destined once used?
Value chain impact is addressed in the top-tier ZWBFC levels.

In the ZWA Blog article, Business NOT as usual: fine-tuning the zero waste journey, the 2015 NZWBC overview substantiates the industry evolution-in-process and the powerful role pioneers play in fine-tuning the journey. 

Breaking down myths and establishing standards is a continual process within the evolutionary spiral of creation. Organizations like the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council are essential to establishing and maintaining integrity within emerging industry practices.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ei Airborne Kitchen Grease Initiative Announced

After diligent work for nearly three years, Elemental Impact formalized the Ei Airborne Kitchen Grease Initiative (AKG), a proactive approach to a costly cooking by-product, with a four-stage action plan. A formal Ei AKG Initiative launch via a press conference is slated once funding is secured.

To date, focus was on the foodservice operator, the AKG generator, with a solid platform built on cost-savings and environmental rewards. For the Ei AKG Initiative, the focus is educating communities on the municipal cost-savings associated with 1> preventing AKG from flowing into sewer systems post-cleaning and 2> increased fire safety resulting in fewer fire department responses for grease fires.

AKG Overview:

KES image from
Best Sheet Metal, Inc.
Airborne grease and smoke generated as a by-product of kitchen operations are a fire hazard, an environmental concern and costly to clean. Local and national regulations require commercial foodservice operations to install a kitchen exhaust system (KES) that evacuates heat, grease, moisture and smoke from the cooking area. Consisting of a hood, baffle filters, ducts and exhaust fan, the KES is monitored and maintained in accordance with the codes to prevent excessive buildup of grease effluent within the system. 

Grease effluent can accumulate inside the KES rapidly and provide a fuel source in the event of a kitchen fire. Local codes require the frequency of inspections depending on the cooking equipment used and the volume of cooking. Monthly or quarterly required KES inspections are most common and generally result in a system cleaning. 
The current standard practice of KES grease maintenance is reactive in nature: grease builds up within the KES followed by a system cleaning. 
On average a complete KES cleaning uses 350 gallons of water along with toxic cleaning agents necessary to remove grease from the system. In addition, the metal baffle filters are generally cleaned nightly, or at least several times weekly, requiring labor, water and toxic cleaning agents. On average baffle filter cleanings use 40 gallons of water plus toxic cleaning agents. 

AKG accumulated in
KES ducts
Local regulations require foodservice operators to install grease traps | grease interceptors designed to prevent kitchen grease from entering the sewer system. When the KES cleaning is complete, the greasy, toxic cleaning-agent-filled water is deposited into the kitchen sinks or other drains; the traps | interceptors flow capacity is exceeded by up to 12X. Thus, the AKG cleaned from the KES flows into the sewer system where it congeals. 

Beyond the costs incurred by the foodservice operator, the reactive AKG approach is costly to the community and building owners: 
  • FOG (fats, oil & grease) - build up in the sewer system and constrict flow, which can cause sewer back-ups into homes and overflow discharges onto streets. One of the main FOG sources is AKG deposited into the sewer system post-KES cleaning. Flushing KES cleaning water into the kitchen drains results in an estimated annual 1.5 billion gallons of toxic, cleaning-agent-laden water flowing into local sewer systems. 
  • Grease fires – according to the National Restaurant Association, there are over 7,500 restaurant fires each year, resulting in over $250 million in damages, and over 100 injuries. 
  • Roof damage – AKG deposits on the roof after it leaves the KES, causing costly roof damage. 
  • Air quality – AKG not deposited within the KES or on the roof flows into the local atmosphere and impacts two of the six EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards: Ozone (O3) and Particulate Matter
A "fatberg" pulled from an Atlanta sewer drain.
A “fatberg” pulled from an Atlanta
sewer drain.
courtesy of  Atlanta Intown article
In her September Intown Atlanta article, Above the Waterline: The Tip of the "Fatberg," Sally Bethea describes how grease and disposable wipes are wreaking costly havoc in Atlanta and beyond sewer systems. Sally quotes a London water official, “If fat is like the mortar, wet wipes are the bricks in fatbergs,” 

Per Sally, the flow of untreated sewage and wastewater that backs up behind these gooey blobs has to go somewhere, so it spews from the pipes through manholes and cracks and spills into nearby creeks.

Ei Partner Ellis Fibre (EF) manufactures a patented, disposable grease filter made from a proprietary blend of sheep's wool. The filter is placed in front of the baffle filters. EF's Grease Lock Filters (GLF) collect over 98% of the kitchen grease particulates before entering the KES. By eliminating grease build-up in the system, the nightly baffle filter cleaning is generally reduced to weekly; the number of third party contracted KES cleanings is significantly reduced. 

AKG deposited on roof
photo courtesy of GLF
Until the patented GLF introduction, there was no cost-effective alternative to reactive kitchen grease management. There are several systems designed to prevent AKG from entering the KES. However, the grease collection devices are metal, require cleaning and allow greasy, toxic cleaning-agent-laden water into the sewer system.  

The Ei AKG Initiative is grounded in a proactive approach to addressing the grease build-up in KES, deposited on the roof and emitted into the atmosphere. By capturing the AKG BEFORE it enters the KES, a myriad of costly impacts are significantly reduced or eliminated. Developing a city-wide AKG template is the main thrust of the Ei Initiative. 

With Atlanta slated to serve as the Ei AKG Initiative Pilot City, the City of Atlanta Office of Sustainability gave the following Statement of Support:
The City of Atlanta, Mayor’s Office of Sustainability is pleased to support the Elemental Impact Airborne Kitchen Grease Initiative. Grease that is flushed into Atlanta’s sewer system creates significant harm to the City’s sewer pipes, wastewater system and treatment facilities, potentially leading to millions of dollars in equipment damage. In addition, airborne kitchen grease contributes significantly to the number of calls that the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department responds to each year.
Report Cover
As the Sustainable Food Court Initiative Airport Pilot, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) took a leadership role with approval of a campus-wide proactive AKG approach. A campus-wide ATL GLF installation is estimated to reduce water usage by 1.1 million gallons per year and on average save each concessionaire $7,300 per year. A successful metro-wide Ei AKG Initiative would result in an estimated 43.4 million gallons of water-savings for the Atlanta area.

Ei Partner HMSHost participated in the initial AKG Pilot to support the cost-savings report at one of their ATL restaurants. Subsequently, HMSHost executed a contract with GLF for anticipated national implementation. The independent engineers report Cost Savings in Commercial Kitchens By Using Grease Lock Filters, A Report on Restaurant Pilots is downloadable on the AKG Stage 1: Building the Foundation website page.

Prior to embarking on a city-wide AKG template, integrity within the proactive AKG approach was substantiated. Initial action steps fell into four categories: 
  1. Fire Safety 
  2. Cost-Savings 
  3. Metrics Platform 
  4. Filter End-of-Life 
The AKG Stage 1 page details the work performed to substantiate the above four categories.

Ei AKG Initiative Stages:

The Ei AKG Initiative Action Plan flows in the following four stages:

AKG is a cooking byproduct
The work within the Stage 1: Building the Foundation is substantially complete. Once funding is secure, Ei will move forward with the City of Atlanta on developing the City-Wide AKG Template, including a press conference to mark the official launch. A second city will serve as the template replication pilot to support the national expansion plan. 

Although the initial Ei AKG Initiative focus is cost-savings, the environmental impact is the essence. Cost-savings is a strong, immediate motivator for the community and business owners to take action. Via the AKG metrics platform the water, grease and toxic-cleaning agent-savings are available to quantify the long-term environmental impact. 

It is imperative to document the extensive AKG environmental impact with scientific research and educate communities, businesses and citizens on the far-reaching ramifications of current AKG reactive practices. A simple proactive approach is available that makes good business sense for the entire value chain, including the water and soil microbial communities.

Ei AKG Initiative Documentation:

In true Ei style, AKG-related work to date is well-documented in the following blog articles:

The following is a common phrase used to describe Ei initiatives:

Ei is a creator, an incubator.
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done.
Ei brings the possible out of impossible.
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

Stay tuned as the Ei AKG Pioneers segue into heroes and bring the possible out of the impossible!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Atlanta Food Waste Heroes: the journey continues ...

In 2012, the National Resources Defense Council Issue Paper Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food form Farm to Fork to Landfill authored by Dana Gunders launched awareness of the global food waste crisis. The paper revealed the rampant wasteful practices throughout the entire food system: from farms to distribution centers to grocery stores | purveyors to restaurants | foodservice operators to consumers.

The ZWA Blog's most popular article Reduce First, Donate Second, Compost Third (over 11.5K views) introduces the food crisis via Jonathan Bloom's ground-breaking 2010 book, American Wasteland - How America Throws Away Nearly Half of It's Food (and what we can do about it). In addition, the article addresses the three primary avenues to reduce food waste: 
1> prevent waste by reduced purchases, careful food preparation and monitoring food spoilage timelines.
2> gift excess food to individuals | organizations who ensure food is consumed.
3> collect food waste for compost, food for the soil's microbial community.

Atlanta's food waste heroes were recognized in Elizabeth Royt's Spoil Alert, a feature article in Martha Stewart's Whole Living November 2012 issue. Elizabeth traveled to Atlanta for a whirlwind two-day interview marathon hosted by Elemental Impact (Ei) founder Holly Elmore. One of the featured food waste crusaders was Myron Smith of Second Helpings, who met Elizabeth at a local farmers market. Elizabeth refers to Myron as "the palest and gentlest vulture you've ever seen. Smith has his eye on bunches of collards and zucchini that might not sell by the market's closing, in 15 minutes."

Myron & Elizabeth with
Second Helpings' truck
The ZWA Blog post, Atlanta Wasted Food Heroes in National Spotlight, is an overview of the Spoil Alert article along with commentary applauding Atlanta's heroes.

Ei, a national non-profit with Atlanta home offices, received national accolades with the 2009 Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) launch including a prime-time aired CNN story and a front-page New York Times article. One of the ZWZ program criteria was food waste must first be donated in accordance with the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. Food not meeting donation standards must be collected for compost. 

The Ei ZWZ program was the national forerunner for the commercial collection of food waste for compost. In 2012 the ZWZ program was sold to the National Restaurant Association with plans for national expansion.

Ei works with industry pioneers to craft evolved industry operating practices that benefit the company, the community and the environment. The following is a common Ei intro phrase:
Ei is a creator, an incubator.
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done.
Ei brings the possible out of impossible.
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

The ZWZ program epitomized successful completion of the above phrase.

On June 15, 2015, Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Atlanta Chapter (LEDI | ATL) accepted the invitation to serve as the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) - Event Pilot  and joined the ranks of Atlanta Food Waste Heroes. Though the Pilot is for the organization as a whole, the first two action points are to craft zero food waste practices for two of their premier events: Afternoon in the Country (AITC) and Culinary Futures.

LDEI is a worldwide society of women dedicated to creating a culture in the community that fosters excellence and promotes the achievement of women in culinary professions through educational and charitable activities. The LDEI | ATL membership boasts nearly 100 prominent women in career paths ranging from professional chefs, restaurateurs, caterers, farmers, food retailers, event planners, cookbook authors, food journalists and historians, winemakers and wine industry professionals, food publicists, and culinary educators to hospitality executives.

Known as one of Atlanta’s most unforgettable food and wine tasting events, AITC is a fund-raiser for local non-profits and scholarships for women in the culinary profession. The November 8, 2015 AITC is the 15th Anniversary event, perfect timing to embark on formal zero food waste practices.

Hosted by the Inn at Serenbe within the Serenbe Community, the AITC is held in an idyllic setting where nature, passion, creativity and community are valued. With over 1800 guests tasting delicious food samples served by nearly 40 prominent restaurants, hotels and caterers, there is a significant amount of food waste generated at the event. In the past, food waste was landfill-destined.

Doug & the ladies @ initial meeting
The ZWA Blog article, Afternoon in the Country embarks on zero food waste journey, announces the SFCI Pilot status and establishes the action plan categories: Food & Beverage (F&B) Serviceware, Food Waste Collection, and Food Waste Destination. Within the article intro is the SFCI background and challenges inherent within post-consumer food waste collection in food courts | events.

Working closely with the SFCI Co-Chair Doug Kunnemann of Natureworks & SMAT - Sustainable Material ACTION Team, LDEI | ATL is committed to creating zero food waste practices for the 2015 AITC. Since the June announcement, the following action steps were taken or are in-process within the designated categories:

F&B Serviceware:
  • Compostable packaging – all single-use F&B serviceware must be BPI Certified compostable; an exception is pre-packaged beverages in recyclable containers, such as bottled water. 
  • Education – event foodservice providers must be educated on the WHY, WHAT & HOW to serve F&B in compostable packaging; includes support with purchasing unique serving items.
  • On-site Monitoring – volunteers visit foodservice operators upon arrival at event to observe any F&B serving or other items provided by the establishment that may contaminate the food waste stream.
Compostable F&B Edu Session
  • Ei Partner Eco-Products is an AITC Sponsor providing BPI Certified plates & cutlery; beverage service is in AITC wine glasses & sponsored water in recyclable bottles. AITC will require the local brewery to use BPI Certified beer cups.
  • Ei Partner NaturBag is an AITC Sponsor providing BPI Certified compostable bags for food waste collection for compost.
  • On August 20, the SMAT hosted a two-hour Compostable F&B Packaging Education Session for the AITC Sustainability Task Force; the session was a modification of the April Georgia World Congress Center-requested education seminar for Levy Restaurants. The ZWA Blog article, Compostable F&B Packaging: integral to zero waste programs and soil rebuilding, gives an in-depth overview of the session.
  • Event Producer ideaLand will educate F&B providers on the new packaging protocol prior to AITC: LDEI will follow-up with their endorsement of | enthusiasm for the zero food waste journey including exclusive use of compostable packaging.
  • The SMAT Team, supported by the AITC Sustainability Task Force, will greet foodservice and beverage operators upon arrival to ensure the compostable packaging protocol is followed.

Food Waste Collection:
  • Waste | recycling bins – for the first year a three-tier bin is used: 1> Food Waste, 2> Recycling, 3> Landfill; at future events the system evolves into a two-tier system: 1> Food Waste, 2> Recycling.
  • Clear signage – the bins must be supported by clear signage designating proper disposal; visuals are most helpful.
  • Monitor attendee disposal – volunteers assist attendees with disposal of items into proper bins to prevent contamination.
Inn @ Serenbe, AITC host
  • AITC Sponsor Figi Water provides 20 recycling bins for their plastic bottles as well as any other plastic or aluminum bottles; Another sponsor is considering a food waste collection bin sponsorship. Discussions are in-progress with Ei Partner Glasdon USA to potentially provide the food waste bins. The 2015 fallback plan is to use the recyclable | compostable cardboard bins if an immediate reusable solution is not feasible.
  • Once the bins are determined, ideaLand will craft appropriate signage with guidance from the SMAT members.
  • ideaLand is in discussions with Georgia Organics to provide "Waste Ambassadors" who assist event attendees sort their waste into the designated bins and prevent contamination. The Georgia Organic volunteers will also aid in the contamination cleansing prior to mixing the food waste compost recipe.

Food Waste Destination:
  • Donation – ensure a plan is in-place for donation of leftover food in accordance with the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.
  • Compost – deliver remaining food waste, back & front-of-the-house, to a composting site operating within state food waste permit regulations.
  • Animal feed – when compostable packaging is mixed with food waste it is not fit for animal consumption; food waste generated under the same roof as meat is often not permitted for animal feed pursuant to respective State Department of Agriculture regulations due to past disease outbreaks.
  • Discussions are underway with Second Helpings to provide a turnkey donation program, including attendee education, for unserved food as the event closes.
  • Ei is responsible for orchestrating on-farm composting operations:
  • Serenbe site visit
    group photo 
    • obtained a Letter of Interpretation from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division stating the AITC food waste falls into Category I of the permit regulations; thus, a formal permit is not required within the regulations.
    • visited Serenbe with Ei Supporter Boyd Leake of Community Environmental Management (CEM) to assess the current Serenbe composting practices and the feasibility of on-farm composting.
    • contracted with Ei Supporter Let Us Compost (LUC) to oversee preparation of the food waste compost recipe, including contamination cleansing. LUC will bring a dump truck filled with wood chips to use if necessary in the compost recipe.
    • FALLBACK - if for an unforeseen reason on-farm compost does not work, LUC will haul the food waste to the Athens-Clarke County permitted food waste compost site.
  • Animal feed is not an option for the AITC food waste.
Going back to basics, AITC is focused on REDUCING food waste generated at their prominent event. ideaLand is committed to finding the balance between "running out of food" and minimizing leftover food. Reminders to adhere to the 2 ounce portion size are set to send to participating chefs a few weeks prior to the event. 

AITC event site 
Post-event Ei, CEM and LUC will visit Serenbe to ensure the compost recipe produced excellent nutrition for the farm's soil. In addition, Ei will work with Serenbe on food waste for compost practices for their many smaller catered events throughout the year. LUC is available for food waste compost consulting on an as requested basis.

The key ZWZ phrase, Collaboration is Key to Success, remains true with the AITC zero food waste journey. SMAT members share their Industry zero food waste expertise gained working with closed event venues, such as Safeco Field in Seattle and the Rose Quarter in Portland, and modify as appropriate for an annual event. As with the ZWZ, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency Region 4, joins the support team to share their experiences and assist with development of a replicable template for annual events | festivals.

In addition, the City of Atlanta Office of Sustainability supports the pilot and is eager to understand implications for Atlanta events. LUC is crafting a turnkey food waste collection for compost program targeted for events | festivals in the Atlanta metro area. Since F&B packaging is necessary to create a clean food waste stream, Ei will develop a Compostable F&B Information Packet for event | festival producers to share with their food providers.

It takes pioneers like LDEI to dive deep and change standard industry operating practices. Often the solutions are simple yet perseverance and tenacity are required for the "trial and error" necessary to discover the easiest, most effective solutions. The biggest challenge is CHANGE! ... and change implemented at an annual event, during "showtime."

Thank you Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Atlanta Chapter and ideaLand for joining Atlanta's Waste Food Heroes as the food waste journey continues into next dimensions. Your contributions are tremendous with far-reaching impact well beyond Atlanta.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Charlotte opportunities segue into ACTION

EPA Grant Team @ Knights Ballpark
during February visit
The week of July 13 the Elemental Impact (Ei) | EPA Grant Team converged on Charlotte for three powerful days filled with meetings, tours and dinners. With introductions substantiated in prior visits, the meetings were follow-up in nature with actions points integral within the respective agendas.

In February the team visited Charlotte for introductory meetings at the Charlotte Convention Center (CCC), Knights' BB&T Ballpark, Hornets Time Warner Cable Arena and Carolina Panthers Bank of America Stadium. The ZWA Blog article, Charlotte: A Land of Opportunities, chronicles the important visit.

Ei's strong Charlotte connections, along with a substantial history of successful work, are chronicled on the Ei Charlotte Visits website page.

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

Concord Mills food waste bin
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.

Charlotte successes were highlighted at the 2013 Charlotte Ei Partner Tours hosted by Simon | HMSHost. The IMPACT Blog article, Charlotte Ei Partner Tours, is a tours overview featuring the forerunner programs in-place.

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 serves 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.

Rick, Kim & Ryan 
Although Ei orchestrated the February Charlotte visit, the EPA Grant was the focal point with Ei initiatives taking a back seat on meeting agendas. For the July visit, Ei initiatives were center stage at meetings with the EPA Grant playing a strong supporting role. Potential EPA Grant Participants appreciated Ei's Charlotte commitment beyond the grant's September 30 expiration.

The Ei SMAT - Sustainable Materials ACTION Team - provides in-depth industry expertise in materials management. SMAT members Rick Lombardo of NaturTec | NaturBag, Ken Fraser of EcoProducts, Sarah Martell of Innovia Films and Kim Charick with the EPA traveled to Charlotte and were instrumental to the visit success. Kim, Ei founder Holly Elmore, Earth Farms Owner Jim Lanier, GreenBlue Project Associate Ryan Cooper among others represented the EPA Grant at the meetings; Ryan took the leading grant role.

Mecklenburg County Environmental Manager, Waste Reduction Laurette Hall and her department were the local connectors to the prestigious facilities on the visit agenda. Laurette, thank you for your vision and commitment to move the Charlotte | Mecklenburg County waste reduction needle.

Mecklenburg County Jail
First on the itinerary was a fantastic meeting at the Mecklenburg County Sherriff's Office regarding food waste collection for compost at the county jails. The meeting was empowering as Chief Deputy Sheriff Felicia McAdoo, Captain Celeste Youngblood, and Officer Thomas Plummer were enthusiastic and asked pertinent questions. SUCCESS: the Mecklenburg County Jail joined the EPA Grant program!

Thank you Nick Crawford, Mecklenburg County senior environmental specialist, for arranging the Sheriff's Office meeting.

At the core of the Ei Charlotte visit was an Airborne Kitchen Grease (AKG), a proactive approach to a costly cooking byproduct, Initiative meeting at the Charlotte Airport. 

In February Laurette introduced the Ei Team to City of Charlotte Energy & Sustainability Manager Rob Phocus. An action point was a subsequent meeting with HMSHost at the airport to learn about the Grease Lock Filters (GLF) system, the AKG Initiative foundation within Ei's Water Use | Toxicity platform.

Rob & Kim during AKG session
GLF founder Joe Salpietra and HMSHost Senior Manager, Contracting Devon Ray flew to Charlotte for the empowering meeting. HMSHost Charlotte Airport Director of Operations Matt Wissman hosted the meeting along with a subsequent tour of GLF installations. Local GLF distributor Eric Dyer of KescorGreen Solutions for Grease Management, joined the airport meeting, as well as most other meetings. 

The Airborne Kitchen Grease presentation can be downloaded on Ei's AKG page.

It was thrilling to witness local, state & federal government associates attend the AKG airport meeting. In addition to the federal (EPA | Kim) and local (county | Laurette & city | Rob) governments, NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources Organics Recycling Specialist Jorge Montezuma represented state government at the airport and most meetings during the visit.

As documented in the AKG website page, GLF improve fire safety | employee safety, reduce kitchen exhaust system cleaning (both baffle filters and entire system) and related labor, save on toxic cleaning chemical use, prevent roof damage caused by deposited AKG and result in cost-savings for the foodservice operator.

Ei launched the AKG Initiative due to the significant water-savings, water that would be filled with toxic cleaning agents.

Joe & Devon discussing national
expansion plans
Subsequent to the airport meeting, Joe, Devon and Holly met to craft a national GLF expansion plan throughout the HMSHost substantial foodservice network, mainly in airports and turnpike service plazas. Last year, GLF | HMSHost executed a national procurement contract.

Thanks to Eric's local connections, the group enjoyed a lovely dinner at Aria Tuscan Grill's chef table. UNC Charlotte Research Intern Tyler Gilkerson joined the dinner. Tyler analyzes food waste samples collected at EPA Grant Participant sites, providing an added benefit for the grant and operators. It was fun to listen to Tyler and Ryan's tales of sample collection!

On the second day, the group convened at a Concord, NC Food Lion where Sustainability Manager John Laughead impressed the group with his infectious enthusiasm and thorough zero waste practices in-place. For front-of-the-house, Food Lion provides consumer recycling bins, clearly labeled for aluminum, plastic & glass containers,  plastic bags, film & wrap, and paper. The cashier checkout stations have recycling and trash bins under the counter.

Food Lion consumer recycling bins
Back-of-the-house practices include on-site OCC (old corrugated cardboard) baling, transport plastic film | wrap collection for baling at the distribution center and food waste collection for compost. Food waste is from products damaged upon delivery and unsalable prepared food & produce. For edible food beyond quality standards, Food Lion has an excellent donation program in-place that meets the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.

While in Atlanta last month, John met at the EPA offices with Jay Bassett, chief, materials management, Jon Johnston, RCRA branch chief, and Kim. Applicable Food Lion stores were EPA Grant Participants prior to the visit!

During the back-of-the-house tour, Holly noticed waxed cardboard used for poultry packaging was separated for trash disposal. An action point is guiding Food Lion with their supply chain on shifting to an alternative coating that renders boxes recyclable and compostable. The ZWA Blog article, Waxed Cardboard Boxes =  Landfill Destiny = $$ Lost, gives an overview of the costly scenario.

Food Lion source-separates material
The afternoon was spent in follow-up meetings from the February visit with the Charlotte Convention Center and the Hornets Arena.

During the downtown event | sporting facilities meetings, the Ei focus was source-separated material (SSM) supported by the Total Materials Management Approach, the entire waste / recycling stream is evaluated within one revenue / cost center. Challenging materials are subsidized with rebates (revenue) from separated, clean bales of valuable items. For example, revenue from aluminum bales pays for compostable food & beverage packaging, a necessity for most post-consumer (front-of-the-house) food waste collection programs.

Inherent within a SSM program is understanding waste | recycling hauler contract provisions. Often contracts stipulate the hauler has rights to ALL material generated at the facility. Thus, SSM rebates belong to the hauler, not the facility generating the material. 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.

Steve with the Earth Farms sign
CCC Assistant Director of Facilities & Engineering Doug Tober joined Food Services Operations Manager Steve Gorham, Procurement Manager Jeff Doerr and Assistant Director of Facility Services Roger Rochelle at the July meeting. After introductions and updates since the excellent February meeting, the group toured front and back-of-the-house operations. It was inspiring to witness the food waste collection practices in-place along with source-separated OCC baling.

The time together ended with a series of action points with Steve: 1> send AKG Initiative documentation, 2> request specific parameters related to protein | produce packaged in waxed OCC and 3> begin strategy process on how to expand food waste collection practices to front-of-the-house | post-consumer food waste.

Following the CCC visit, the group walked to the Hornets Arena where Director of Facility Operations Cathy Buchhofer and Hornets Arena Coordinator Alex Mackenzie hosted a superb meeting. With Alex's recent hire, the group gave a strong recap of the powerful February meeting.

Hornets meeting
Back-of-the-house food waste collection is slated to begin in the next weeks. Though focused on immediate action, Cathy was interested in the long-term support for solid arena zero waste practices. When the Ei Team returns to Charlotte in October, a longer-term strategy session is slated for the visit.

Once again relying on Eric's local expertise, the group enjoyed dinner on Ri-Ra Irish Pub's rooftop deck. After a hectic, amazing day, it was important to regroup in a casual, fun environment.

On the third and final day, Concord Mills General Manager Ray Soporowski welcomed the Ei | EPA Grant Team to the state's most visited tourist destination. In January, HMSHost left the mall as the food court concessionaire. Ray is working with the new tenants on re-establishing back-of-the-house food waste collection for compost practices. During the food court build out, the two-yard food waste dumpsters were removed due to contamination form the construction crews.

Ray with Ei | EPA Grant Team
in the plastic film recycling room
Ray and Holly gave an overview of Concord Mills past successes. Discussion focused on new endeavors with AKG, expanding the plastic film recycling practices, and opportunities via new single-standing restaurants in the lease negotiation phase. SUCCESS: Ray gave his YES to joining the EPA Grant Program during the meeting!

From Concord Mills, the team traveled the short distance to Northlake Mall and met with management on implementing a back-of-the-house food waste collection for composting program. Ei Partner Keter Environmental Services manages the mall's waste and recycling services; Keter Regional Manager Andrew Lantz traveled to Charlotte for the important meeting.

General Manager Adam Kamlet shared recent food waste experiences during his tenure at a San Francisco mall while Director of Operations Michael Signorelli expressed his strong program support. A main action point is to provide Michael talking points for the food waste program introduction to mall restaurants.

Nortlake Mall lunch destination
The game plan is to implement the food waste practices in phases, beginning with the two seated dining restaurants. Food court restaurants will follow once new operational practices are in-place and any challenges are addressed.

After a formal meeting in the mall conference room, the group enjoyed a lovely lunch at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill. During the lunch, Michael appreciated how the AKG proactive approach prevented costly roof damage; Eric is staged to follow-up on GLF introductions at the seated dining restaurants. Farewells to new friends were intertwined with action points over the next weeks.

Prior to attending the evening Knights baseball game, the SMAT members met for a two-hour working session on educational documentation under development. In April, the SMAT presented the Compostable Food & Beverage Packaging Education Session to the Levy Restaurants downtown Atlanta campus. With the announcement of the SFCI - Les Dames d'Escoffier International | Atlanta Chapter, SMAT is updating the session for a new audience.

SMAT working session
The ZWA Blog article, Compostable F&B Packaging: integral to zero waste programs & rebuilding the soil, introduces the education session while the Afternoon in the Country embarks on zero food waste journey article introduces the SFCI - LDEI | ATL Pilot.

Charlotte Knights Director of Stadium Operations Mark McKinnon welcomed the Ei | EPA Grant Team to the 7:00 p.m. game and gave a thorough tour of game day practices. Ovations General Manager Erik Hassy took time during the game to show the team back-of-the-house kitchen operations.

Due to provisions within the waste | recycling sponsorship contract, there are challenges creating a cost-effective material source-separation, including food waste, program at the ballpark. In October, a small group will meet with Mark to strategize on a game plan to refine existing recycling practices.

A limited portion of the ballpark's
spectacular view
IMPRESSIVE: the BB&T Knights Ballpark was named Best Ballpark in the Minors. “There can’t be a better view of a downtown skyline anywhere . . . It looks almost fake,” a minor league radio announcer wrote to Baseball America.

Unfortunately, the Carolina's Panthers Stadium was incredibly busy during the Charlotte visit and not available for a follow-up to the productive February meeting.

The Ei FB album, July 2015 Ei Charlotte Visit, provides a pictorial recap of the visit.

In her February closing statement, Laurette summarized the scenario with perfection: Charlotte is a Land of Opportunities! During the July visit, Charlotte opportunities segued into action points, filled with promise to reduce Charlotte area waste along with fueling local economic vitality. 

.. and the Ei Team returns to Charlotte in early October - stay tuned!