Composting 101

As more businesses seek opportunities to lower their carbon footprints, it is often the food and beverage departments that lead the charge. At parks around the country, concessioners are switching to biodegradable and compostable service-ware and utensils, composting their food waste, and promoting more recycling. Food and beverage operations are generally the number one contributor to waste in parks, which means there is ample opportunity for concessioners to make strides in this area.

Organic materials are among the highest volume of waste collected at park events.i Compost is organic material that aids in growing plants. Food waste and yard trimmings are common inputs for creating compost — both of which are found frequently in parks and at concession locations. There are many benefits to composting. Concessioners can compost food scraps or vegetation waste to reduce their output to landfills. Other benefits of composting include:

  • Reduction or elimination of the need for chemical fertilizers;
  • Cost-effective means of remediating soil;
  • Avoidance of methane formation in landfills;
  • Marketable commodity. Concessioners can supply their compost to those who need it (gardens, local farmers, etc.).

Various concessioners across the NPS have implemented alternative energy projects to increase their resiliency against climate change impacts, and decrease their dependence on fossil fuels. Alternative fuels are often used in park buses and trams, snowmobiles, shuttles, trucks, boats, and staff vehicles.

Composting food scraps, coffee grounds, and paper contaminated with food residue is an excellent means of preventing waste, and increasing your recycling rate. Coffee grounds are an easy first step. Collecting used coffee grounds, and reusing them in local gardens, is a cost effective means of avoiding fertilizer. Many parks or nearby communities have composting programs, but if yours does not, consider working with the local waste or recycling hauler to identify a suitable alternative. You can also deliver your organic materials to local farmers, community gardens, pig farmers, or institutions with existing composting programs. Refer to the resources below for further assistance.

Another means of promoting composting within your concession operations is by using compostable service-ware, eliminating waste at the source. The Be Straw Free Campaign was an excellent example of reusable serviceware in action. Options include compostable plastic, bio-based plastic, or thermoplastic. Bio-based plastics, or bioplastics, are made of corn, sugar or starch. Thermoplastics are created from blending starch from plant-based products with other products; only some thermoplastics are truly compostable, so it is important to do one’s research before purchasing certain materials. For a list of vendors, see resources below. Note that while biodegradable service-ware is preferred to plastic or styrofoam, using reusable utensils is the best strategy to reduce waste and green your food operations.

If you are hosting an event, plan strategically, and set up both recycling and compost bins. Smart placement of signage and receptacles can help to maximize collection and reduce contamination, which occurs when trash is mixed with recyclables, or non-organic materials are mixed with compostables. Bins should be placed throughout the grounds, with a focus on high-traffic areas (near concession areas, restrooms, entrances, and exits). Provide clear signage , as the users must be aware of their options in order to make their waste disposal decisions accurately. Signs can be paired with graphic representations of what items are compostable (or not).

When initiating composting and recycling strategies, it is also important to keep in mind the first step to functioning more sustainably – produce less waste to begin with.

Tips for Reducing Food-Related Waste:

  • Buy in bulk rather than individual servings;
  • Use refillable or reusable containers;
  • Buy supplies with recycled content;
  • Donate leftover food;
  • Use recyclable or compostable containers.

For more general information on composting, refer to the following sources: