Aspen eyes experiment to collect, compost food waste |

Aspen eyes experiment to collect, compost food waste

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Banana peel? Toss it in the trash. Or, maybe not.

A hoped-for pilot program in Aspen could target the one substantial component of the community’s garbage that isn’t already the focus of local recycling efforts – food waste.

While some homeowners compost their food waste for backyard garden use, local government hopes to try it on a larger scale. The plan, however, hinges on the success of a grant application that would fund a new piece of equipment at the Pitkin County landfill and securing participation from a handful of Aspen’s bigger restaurant operations, according to Ashley Cantrell, environmental health specialist for the city.

The city and county have jointly applied for a $94,000 Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity Act grant from the state – from funds that may not survive current legislative budget cutting.

If the grant program continues, though, and one is awarded locally, Cantrell said she hopes to line up five to eight participating businesses for a pilot program that would begin this summer. Restaurant and, perhaps, supermarket food waste would be separated from other garbage and used in the landfill’s existing composting operation.

“The food waste is probably the largest component of what’s being buried in the landfill now that’s recyclable,” said Chris Hoofnagle, the county’s solid waste manager.

Keeping it out of the landfill, along with the wide range of materials that are already separated out for recycling and reuse, will extend the life of the facility, he said.

The landfill already composts materials such as grass, leaves and wood chips, mixing them with “biosolids” from the city sanitation plant to produce compost – a nutrient-rich loam that is used as a soil additive. It sells for $32.50 per cubic yard at the landfill.

Food waste – a category that includes not only unused kitchen scraps, but also biodegradable products like paper and cardboard food wrappers, napkins and even paper plates – can be part of the compost recipe.

Most of the grant funds would go toward the purchase of a large tub grinder to mix and break up the food waste.

“It’s like a huge blender, really,” Hoofnagle said.

There appears to be interest in the restaurant community to pull foodstuffs from the waste stream, according to Cantrell, who believes the effort could prove cost-effective for participants.

“We get a lot of requests from local businesses, mainly restaurants and coffee shops, to recycle food waste,” she said. “For restaurants, food is a huge percentage of what they throw away.”

Businesses that have garbage compactors would be used in the initial trial. Those compactors would be filled with food waste, which can be disposed of more cheaply at the landfill than a compactor of regular garbage because the food waste is compostable.

The smaller volume of true garbage produced by a restaurant would have to be collected in a separate container and disposed of at the landfill, but the cost of dealing with the pure trash should drop, given the reduction in volume.

Cantrell hopes restaurants will save money on garbage pickup costs, or at least, break even.

The idea isn’t new. Seattle adopted a law last year requiring households to compost food waste. San Francisco followed with a sweeping measure that requires all residents, businesses and restaurants to separate out food waste from garbage; it is taken to the city’s Organic Annex for processing into compost.

At the Pitkin County landfill, operators have some experience using food waste in the composting operation. Some special events, including the Winter X Games, collect food and paper waste separately as an environmental effort.

The landfill has not, however, had a significant volume of food waste with which to experiment, Hoofnagle said.

“We need to see what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

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