Food waste station at Metro School in Charlotte, NC.

Food waste station at Metro School in Charlotte, NC.

 

Besides being the host city for SPC Advance, Charlotte is also home to a special composting pilot program led by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. The Scaling Up Composting in the Charlotte Region project facilitates the separation and recovery of organic waste, working closely with local composter, Earth Farms Organics. This program has been a substantial collaborative effort between the SPC, U.S. EPA Region 4, Mecklenburg County, the University of North Carolina, Charlotte (UNCC) IDEAS Center, and Elemental Impact. Attendees at SPC Advance will hear from all of these organizations, take part in a facilitated working session to brainstorm ways of extrapolating the lessons from the Charlotte region to all of North America, and visit Earth Farms Organics to see the program in action.

In the Charlotte region, the SPC has been working to provide local governments and businesses with a deeper understanding of the challenges and solutions associated with organics recycling. Data is being collected and analyzed to measure the weight and composition of the organic material as well as the financial implications of participating in food waste collection. At SPC Advance, we plan to work together to understand how to scale these learnings to North America.

During our visit to Earth Farms Organics, attendees can learn how they have been providing technical assistance, hauling services, and composting capacity for interested parties to recycle their organic residuals. Earth Farms’ proven success has already attracted many key stakeholders in the region, such as Dole, Nestle, and Lance, Inc. We’ll also hear from Mecklenburg County and learn how they started a food waste collection pilot in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system, which has 164 schools and 144,000 students. The school’s program was recently featured in BioCycle Magazine, the industry journal for composting. In addition to the school system, the SPC has made it possible for the YMCA, Carolina Place Mall, and the Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) to start composting. The SPC also successfully recruited the Food Lion grocery store chain, with 100 locations in Mecklenburg County alone.

Elemental Impact, based in Atlanta, recently coordinated incredibly successful meetings with shopping malls, sports teams, and other key stakeholders in the region. SPC Project Associate, Ryan Cooper, attended these meetings, organized by Holly Elmore, founder and CEO of Ei.

Those interested in education and community outreach will be interested to learn that under the leadership of Rick Lombardo at Natur-Tec and Sarah Martell at Innovia Films, we have gathered current curricula related to sustainable materials management and composting and we have designed a composting lesson plan for Nicolette Torres’ 6th grade environmental science class at Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy. The SPC is also working on coordinating waste diversion at Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy as a three-bin system (compost, recycling, and landfill trash).

At Central Piedmont Community College, the SPC provided funding to start food waste diversion at the Harris campus and purchase compostable liners. The SPC also coordinated donation by Rubbermaid for “slim jim” bins, and we are seeing momentum build throughout the region.

The SPC and its partners have achieved success with a wide range of organic waste generators. With the help of Earth Farms Organics, the SPC provided compost bins for attendees and food vendors at the South End Hops Festival, and the SPC is working with Mecklenburg County to enhance their support for recycling and composting at other events, large and small, around the city. The SPC is also collaborating with Mecklenburg County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to gain an understanding of their innovative program and where improvements can be made.

So come attend the “Scaling Up Composting in North America: Presentation And Working Session” session at SPC Advance and hear the project’s leadership discuss the lessons learned from of implementing composting in the Charlotte region, including the challenges and opportunities related to space, labor, cost, and equipment considerations, and much more. Speakers include representatives from the SPC, Elemental Impact, the EPA, and Mecklenburg County, and the presentation is followed by a substantive facilitated discussion about our next steps to grow composting in North America. You’ll learn that whether it is management decisions, or logistical decisions, starting a composting program can seem like a challenge to some companies, but through this grant program, the SPC and its partners have found replicable success.

By Ryan Cooper, SPC Project Associate.