Composting 101

Compost is an environmentally responsible way to dispose of decomposable plant- or animal-based organic material. Composting leverages nature’s biological decomposition process, which breaks down the biological “waste” of all creatures from mammals and birds, to rodents, worms, and insects, and uses this to feed the surrounding ecosystem and create new life.

The most obvious environmental benefit of composting is the reduction in solid waste to the landfill. Rather than disposing of leftover food in the trash at the end of the day, parks and concessions can consolidate scraps to be used for compost. Some initiatives are simpler, others require a team approach, communication, and planning. There are many avenues for giving leftover food waste a new life through composting:

Gardens

Compost is great for gardens because it provides nutrients to enrich the soil which in turn supports healthier more productive plant life. Anything from apples to coffee grounds can be used as compost in community gardens. If your operation has opted for compostable kitchenware, throw those in there too (just make sure to keep meat and pet droppings out)!

Animal Food

For operations that house animals – particularly equine such as horses and mules or swine such as hogs and pigs – human food scraps make a great meal. Not only does this reduce food waste from kitchens, it also helps increase landfill diversion rates. Some concessioners such as Xanterra Parks & Resorts at Grand Canyon National Park have already paved the way for effective diversion using this method to feed livery mules. A typical process might involve something like the following:

Food prep staff at restaurants collect food scraps and consolidate them in large buckets for easy pick-up. Porters bring the buckets to loading docks where they are transferred to the livery. Livery staff weigh the scraps and record that amount in a daily log. Buckets are then emptied into the corral to be consumed by livery animals. Empty buckets are brought back to the loading docks for next day pick up. As porters drop off full buckets of food scraps the next morning, they pick up empty buckets at the same time and bring them back to the kitchens.

Fertilizer

Taking the “human scraps for mule food” solution a step further, mule manure can also be used as fertilizer for local farms. Manure can be collected from the livery and hauled away for composting to enrich the soils of nearby farms. For example, Xanterra sends manure collected from their livery in Grand Canyon Village to farms and gardens in Flagstaff, Arizona. The compost is sold to local nurseries and farmers, a solution that completely closes the loop on that particular waste stream.

Caring for Your Compost

For parks without on-site composting, a make-shift compost pile can go a long way. Get a good mix of “green” materials like grass and food scraps, and “brown” materials like dry leaves and shredded paper. The addition of brown materials is a tried-and-true way to eliminate any bad smells because they plump up the pile to allow greater air flow. Weeds (green material) can be added as well, but will require heating up the pile to kill the seeds. Avoid the addition of meats, pet droppings, or anything containing pesticides or herbicides. Keep the pile damp but not wet, turning the pile over often (either manually or using a compost tumbler) to speed up the compost process.

The development of programs to recycle organic materials is sometimes overlooked, but they can provide many benefits to park and concession operations.