Eco-entrepreneurs put food scraps to workPosted: March 6th, 2012
Special to Globe and Mail Update
Bananas, the world’s most popular fruit, are the go-to healthy office snack. Just think of how many peels get tossed in cubicle garbage cans across the country every day.
Contrary to common thinking, banana peels don’t just harmlessly decompose once they end up in a landfill. Rather, they rot and release methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.
Organics make up a huge part of the overall waste stream, and while recycling is more commonplace than ever, composting is still catching up. Municipalities throughout Canada are at various stages of implementing residential kitchen-scrap-pickup programs, and most restaurants and hotels have long been eco-conscious about their organic trash.
But what about the thousands of offices nationwide and the millions of Canadians who chuck apple cores and unfinished sandwiches into the trash every day?
Vancouver-based Urban Impact is one of a handful of companies offering office compost service to help counter so much unnecessary waste.
“Metro Vancouver is getting very aggressive goals in terms of waste reduction, and composting is without a doubt going to be a huge contributor to reaching those goals,” says Urban Impact president and chief executive officer Nicole Stefenelli. Organic waste diversion “is the next step,” she says.
About one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tonnes per year, according to the 2011 Global Food Losses and Food Waste study for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
In Canada, about 40 per cent of food is thrown out instead of consumed, according to a study by the George Morris Centre, an agri-business think tank in Guelph, Ont. That’s about $27-billion worth. “This inevitably also means that huge amounts of the resources used in food production are used in vain, and that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by production of food that gets lost or wasted are also emissions in vain,” the study stated.
In Metro Vancouver, residents and businesses are working toward a target of 70 per cent waste diversion from landfill by 2015 as part of the Zero Waste Challenge.
While many progressive workplaces have volunteer-driven compost programs in place, Urban Impact’s service strives to make composting as simple as possible for those in suits.
Here’s how it works: Urban Impact drops off a collection container, people put their food scraps in it, then the company picks it up and replaces it with a fresh one every week or two. Urban Impact takes the compostable materials to Fraser Richmond Soil & Fibre Ltd., a processor that turns them into nutrient-rich soil.
Ms. Stefenelli concedes that old food lying around can make people uncomfortable.
“People have some trepidation about trying it, which is fair. People have concerns about odour, fruit flies and cleanliness overall,” Ms. Stefenelli says. “Those are definitely obstacles that need to be addressed, and we’re working to mitigate all that,” she says, pointing to the secure, leak-proof composting pails the program uses and the need for their regular exchange.
There’s a business case to be made for collecting organic waste. According to Urban Impact, any office that produces large amounts of food scraps should see a cost savings through a reduction in the frequency or volume of garbage pickup.
The amount of material that can be composted instead of sent to the landfill is considerable: besides fruit and vegetable matter, other acceptable items include leftovers, coffee grounds and filters, spoiled food, greasy pizza boxes, paper tea bags and waxed paper.
Urban Impact has more than 100 employees and a fleet of hybrid diesel electric collection trucks, Ms. Stefennelli says.
She is encouraged by the increasing awareness of eco-friendly disposal practices.
“Recycling 20 years ago was a novelty [in Canada],” she says. “The wonderful thing now is that recycling is a business practice. It’s not just a case of someone being terribly green but almost a requirement of day-to-day business.”
Posted in the Globe and Mail here.