Sometimes it just takes one trailblazer to get things moving.
That's what Charleston County's environmental management department is hoping with the recent announcement that local Publix grocery stores will send their produce and floral waste to the county for composting at the Bees Ferry Landfill, as Warren Wise reported in his retail column this week.
This is the natural expansion of a pilot program the county began in 2010. In 2011 the county was getting about 60 tons of food waste a week for composting; the pilot program permit allowed up to 100 tons each week.
When the county applied for a DHEC permit for a permanent program, “we shot for the moon,” recycling coordinator Christina Moskos said. Part of that was so they wouldn't have to go back and ask for incremental increases. But they didn't necessarily expect what DHEC allowed — a maximum of 1,000 tons a week when the permanent program was established in June.
Right now they're taking only about 20 tons a week, but they're hoping that the addition of Publix will not only increase that, but help pave the way for more grocery stores and other large generators to send their food waste to them, Moskos said.
Completing the cycle
In addition to saving restaurants, grocers and other food-waste generators on their garbage service user fees, the program has another benefit — the compost created at the landfill can be sold.
You can buy the compost; it's $2 for a 1.5 cubic-foot bag at the landfill or the recycling center at 13 Romney St.
It's also available for $10 a ton at the landfill, which makes sense as it is trying to court bigger customers. That should be easier because of another waste program change — that plastic bag ban for yard waste. That ban means that the compost is now estimated to be about 99 percent free of plastic.
“What that's done is it has provided us with a more marketable product,” Moskos said, so marketable that it's difficult to keep it in stock. Bags are usually sold within 24 hours of arrival at the Romney Street location, so you might want to call ahead.
Reaching the goal
As of mid-December, approximately 35 companies are having their food waste sent to the composting part of the landfill, Moskos said.
A comprehensive waste study conducted in 2009 and 2010 showed that 22 percent of the county's waste was organic, either yard waste or food waste. Add to this our region's reputation as a foodie destination, and you can see where this all fits together nicely.
Moskos admits there are no plans to start residential curbside food-waste collection, like Seattle or Princeton, N.J., but this is still a significant milestone; Charleston County's is the first such DHEC permitted program in the state.
Individual residential composting is, of course, encouraged. But going after the major food-waste generators should give them the biggest bang for their buck, and help the county get closer to its overall 40 percent recycling goal, which is a win-win.
Check out the county's website or call the recycling center at 720-7111 for more info.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565.