Turning food waste into compost
Food waste has traditionally represented the end of the food chain. A new initiative hosted by Island Grown to turn scraps and leftovers once sent to landfills into nutrient-rich compost is focused on connecting to the beginning of the food chain.
Martha’s Vineyard ships all of its waste to New Bedford, including an estimated 6,500 tons of food waste per year. At the same time, about 40 farms and many landscapers on the island use compost shipped to the island. To keep food waste out of landfills and to make compost on the island, in June 2016 the Island-Wide Organics Feasibility Study began a pilot project to collect food waste. The project moved to Island Grown in January 2017.
The project began with six restaurants; it is now collecting food waste from 16 restaurants, one catering company, and three residential drop-off sites. Island Grown provides training to the staff at the collection sites about what can be composted and provides five-gallon buckets for indoor collection and large totes with bungee cords for outdoor storage. Island Grown collects the waste in a pickup truck and brings it to various island farms to be composted for later use on farms.
In its first 18 months of operation, the project collected more than 96 tons of food waste. When Island Grown switched to a fee-based system in January, staying competitive with trash-collector fees, all of the collection sites stayed with the program.
Island Grown wanted to demonstrate the demand for food-waste collection in hopes that waste haulers would see the commercial possibilities and take over collections from the nonprofit. However, before haulers are willing to change their model, they need a permanent place to take the waste. Currently, participating farms are overwhelmed, since tending the compost takes significant staff time, and seagulls have become a nuisance. Island Grown is advocating for the island to install a composting system within a vessel at one of the transfer stations.
“Dealing with food waste is a slow moving process—waste is complicated, and there are lots of players. However a promising amount of progress has been made in the last one and a half years,” says Food Equity and Recovery Director Sophie Abrams. “This is a fixable problem.”