Organics Recycling For Businesses and Organizations: A Guide To Costs and Other Considerations

Organics recycling and diversion is one of the best ways for businesses to make a big impact on waste reduction.

Organics, including food waste, is a major issue for businesses everywhere. Even if your business has nothing to do with food, organic waste is generated by employee cafeterias, and from workers bringing in food. While hotel and food industry businesses like restaurants and supermarkets have the most to gain from an effective organics recycling and diversion program, in general, most businesses will benefit from implementing an organics program that may include composting and other diversion methods.

Should your business address organic waste? 

Looking at waste data from the largest study of commercial waste completed to date, the answer seems to be yes. The study, which analyzed over 170,000 pounds of waste from 100+ commercial waste audits conducted worldwide, revealed that organic material — at 36% — consistently made up the largest portion of divertable material found in commercial trash streams. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirms this. According to the EPA, organics make up the largest component of Municipal Solid Waste.

Given that recycling diversion programs are already in place for many businesses, incremental improvements in recycling are not going to make as much of an impact on increasing diversion as a potential organics program. Addressing organic waste is one of the biggest opportunities for businesses to make an impact on waste reduction.

Organics recycling and diversion will also have a big impact on climate change. Organic materials decomposing in landfills or burned in incinerators produce emissions from methane which are 72% more powerful than carbon in increasing global temperatures. Diverting and recycling organics through composting and other means helps to reduce climate impact and will position your organization as an environmental leader, supporting corporate sustainability goals, from Zero Waste, LEED and B Corp certification, to reducing Scope 3 emissions. It has also been shown that businesses get high returns for addressing organics.

What are the costs of organics recycling and diversion?

Organics recycling and diversion programs can be surprisingly low cost to implement. In many cases, there is no need for new purchases.  An organization’s existing waste bins can simply be repurposed or repositioned for use with a new organics program. New and optional costs might include the purchase of compostable bags to line compost bins, and items like compostable napkins, cups, trays and utensils that make composting easier (and potentially more successful) because they can be thrown into the compost bins along with food waste. These costs may be offset by savings in waste removal fees as well.

How much time and training is involved?

Installing an organics recycling or diversion program does require a little education but this can be accomplished quickly and easily with short training sessions, supplemented with occasional reminders. Raising staff awareness about the benefits of organics recycling and composting will motivate them to comply as well as build support for the organics program.

What about space constraints and smells?

These are two of the biggest fears related to composting and organics in an urban environment. But remember, since the volume of waste and recycling generated will not change (you are simply separating out your organic material for processing), additional space may not even be necessary; and there won’t be any new smells since the organics you are separating out was previously part of your trash.

How To Start An Organics Recycling and Diversion Program In 3 Steps:

1) Install a pilot organics recycling and diversion program

Every building and business has a different set-up and requires an organics program designed to fit its needs. Testing the program will allow you to make changes that will lead to success, or save you from investing in a program that may not work for reasons that may not be in your control.

2) Back-of- house or front-of- house?

Many buildings and businesses begin their organics recycling and diversion program with “back-of- house” (“pre-consumer”) operations, which focus efforts in the kitchen and prep areas, where the majority of food waste is generated. This requires education and training of food prep workers and cleaning/janitorial staff.

On the other hand, “front-of- house” (“post-consumer”) organics programs aim to source separate food waste from more public areas like cafeterias and office pantries. This requires more education and monitoring because it involves participation from all employees, not just those who work in the kitchen or in janitorial.

3) Maintain and adjust your organics recycling and diversion program to hit your goals

Finally, as with all other sustainability efforts, maintenance is crucial. Once your organics recycling and diversion program is up and running, your sustainability consultant or officer should check on its progress to ensure continued success and suggest changes, if necessary, to improve efficiency and achieve your sustainability goals.

Food Waste Toolkit: Download our Guide for Businesses


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