June 3, 2016

Death of composting

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Yes, to take that picture I had to stick my phone in a trashcan, or more specifically a compost bin.

I’m trying to keep my cool but I’m not doing a very good job of it. Savethatstuff, our composter, is not composting all of the compost they pick up from our restaurants. And they haven’t been for a while (they have trouble telling me how long). And we’ve been paying for it the whole time.

To my knowledge we were the first restaurant in the country to move to 100% compostable packaging. This was back in 2010. I’d spent 18 months trying to get to that point. The last hang-up was the compostable lids, I’d finally gotten a new packaging company to develop a compostable hot lid and we were able to move to 100% compostable packaging. We were paying $0.16 for a cup that would otherwise cost us $0.03, and $1.00 for trash bags that would otherwise cost us $0.05. And we were paying about 60% more per ton for pick-up vs. trash going to landfill. We’ve spent $100s of thousands of dollars over the years on compost. But we felt really strongly about the move.

Why? If you look at our country’s current system we take all these nutrients out of the soil (as food) then throw them into situations where they can never be accessed again (landfill). I wanted to break that cycle. We thought that if we were ever going to be able to capture customer’s food waste (the bulk of the waste our business produces) we would need a single bin folks can put all of their stuff in. And that would mean the packaging would have to be compostable as well as the food scraps, so that everything could get collected.

Now I’m learning that Savethatstuff hasn’t been composting all of our compostables. They have been sending everything I’m paying to have composted, my expensive compostable bags, compostable packaging, food scraps to landfill. What!?! I asked Adam Mitchell, a Partner there, whether they are planning to issue us a refund for loads that we have paid to have composted but have gone to landfill. He said no, we’ve provided a service you paid for. This is when I lose my cool. I paid for COMPOSTING service not LANDFILL service!

OK, so what now. What do we do in a post-composting world? Well first, I think it’s stupid. I understand there are issues to getting composting done. Savethatstuff was using a facility called WeCare Environmental (don’t you love these names!). And WeCare is having issues with their neighbors not liking the smell. So Savethatstuff is discontinuing their relationship. And in the ultimate irony Adam told me that another thing that’s bad about WeCare is that they were caught sending compost to landfill in upstate NY. Uh… you mean like Savethatstuff sending some of my compost to landfill right now?

Anyway, there are other issues, sometimes compost in contaminated with non-compostables. This even happens at home. Sometimes I’ll find something plastic-y in my compost from years ago.

But aren’t we clever enough to solve these problems? Didn’t we figure out how to sort recyclables very effectively?

Now that I know all of this I’m going to sit down with Chris Anderson (head of food at Clover) today and we’re going to go over our options. I expect we’ll move away from compostable packaging and instead move to post-consumer recyclable.

It’s a sad and frustrating day.

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