Reducing food waste called "the next frontier" of recycling

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

At Lincoln Financial Field, workers rip open trash bags after Eagles games, on the lookout for wayward pizza crusts and french fries.

At Holmesburg Prison, inmates mix vegetable trimmings and leftover green beans into a large pile of wood chips.

At the Federal Reserve Bank, M. Lee Meinicke drives her truck in to make a withdrawal - of food scraps from the cafeteria.

In the continuing battle to reduce the waste stream - the stuff going to landfills and incinerators, at great expense for businesses and municipalities - food is considered to be "the next frontier" of recycling, said Maurice Sampson II, a solid-waste expert.

Recently, Philadelphia launched its first foray into food-waste recovery, a pilot program to install 200 garbage disposals in residents' kitchen sinks.

The idea is to get the food out of the trash pails and into the sewage-treatment plants, where it will provide fuel for electricity generation and be transformed into fertilizer.

But many thought a better use would be to turn the food scraps into compost.

A national municipal model is San Francisco, where homes have three bins: green for compostables, blue for recyclables, black for the rest. The city aims to be zero-waste by 2020.

Philadelphia officials say they're exploring options. Meanwhile, many are already taking matters into their own hands - and bins.

From a cache of worms in a Kensington kitchen to prep scraps from the University of Pennsylvania cafeterias, from Meenal Raval's Mount Airy backyard to the University City District's "Dirt Factory," projects are proliferating.

As recently as 2008, when Meinicke was seeking a project for a sustainable-business degree, Sampson suggested composting because not much was happening, "and there should be," he told her.

By 2009, she had an Earth Tub - a commercial bin that holds three cubic yards of waste - in a warehouse in Germantown. Also, a pickup truck and a bunch of 20-gallon buckets.

When she outgrew the tub, she took the material to Two Particular Acres, a Royersford farm where former labor lawyer Ned Foley composts in huge windrows with aerating pipes underneath.

When she outgrew him, she turned to the Wilmington Organics Recycling Center, which opened in late 2009.

Now, Meinicke, president of Philly Compost, has more than 40 commercial customers, including the Valley Forge casino, the Four Seasons Hotel, more than a dozen restaurants, and the Comcast Center. Her company motto: "In soil we trust."

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