When Wayne Koeckeritz turned 40 last year, he decided to leave a salaried job at a prestigious company and set out to run his own business.
He concedes that many people would not trade a good job at The Sanctuary, a top-ranked luxury hotel on Kiawah Island, in order to drive a garbage truck.
But that’s just what he did. Koeckeritz is owner and operator of Food Waste Disposal LLC, a business aimed at closing the loop in the growing farm-to-table movement, by collecting food waste from restaurants and institutions and taking it to be composted.
As restaurants seek to be more environmentally sustainable and boast of serving food prepared with locally sourced ingredients, Koeckeritz believes they will embrace the concept of turning their food waste and materials, including soiled paper napkins, into nutrition for plants.
“I put food and organic waste composting today where recycling was 20 years ago,” he said. “As more people see that this is a possibility, they are going to want to see the places where they go do this.”
Kiawah Island Golf Resort and restaurants including T-Bonz, Taco Boy, Wild Olive and The Grocery are among the early adopters of his model.
Food Waste Disposal also has worked special events such as the Bridge Run and Cajun Fest, and has signed Charleston County Park and Recreation’s Whirlin’ Waters water park in North Charleston as a client.
For restaurants and other customers on the Charleston peninsula, food waste hauling can represent an added expense because the city already collects their garbage seven days a week.
For businesses elsewhere in Charleston County that pay directly for waste hauling, food waste collection can offset other expenses by reducing the volume of waste subject to the county’s user fee.
Compost material isn’t subject to the user fee.
Koeckeritz said that during his eight years as director of engineering at The Sanctuary, reducing waste was always something he had his eye on. “I was constantly looking at that, and looking at the expenses,” he said.
Charleston County assesses businesses a commercial solid waste user fee based on the cubic yard size of their waste containers and how often they are emptied by a hauler. Removing compostable material from the mix can mean smaller containers and fewer pickups.
“For businesses, it’s all about that $172 per yard,” Koeckeritz said, referring to the county’s fee.
A business with an 8-cubic-yard container, emptied weekly, would be charged an annual $1,376 user fee, for example. Emptied twice a week, the fee would double.
Koeckeritz said that if a business diverts its compostable waste to his company, they might recoup a little of the cost by reducing the size of the container they use for waste that gets landfilled. Koeckeritz said it would cost a medium-size to large restaurant about $200 a month for his service.
The food waste and other compostables that Koeckeritz’s company collects go to an industrial-size compost area at Charleston County’s Bees Ferry Landfill. The county charges him $25 per ton to drop off the food waste, and later sells the resulting compost for $10 a ton.
Koeckeritz promises his clients 40 pounds of compost for every ton of waste collected, and some clients donate their compost, delivered by Koeckerit, to community gardens and schools.
Compost is nutrient-packed garden soil that results when bacteria and fungi break down organic material ranging from paper plates and coffee grounds to fruit, cooked meat and yard waste.
Homeowners are often cautioned to avoid adding meat to a backyard compost pile because it can attract animals. But meat scraps and bones are allowed at Bees Ferry, whether they arrive as compost material or municipal waste.
That means a restaurant could have servers or dishwashers scrape plates directly into a food waste container instead of a garbage can, Koeckeritz said.
For Koeckeritz, launching his fledgling business meant not only giving up a secure job, but cashing in some retirement funds and taking on duties that include setting out in a garbage truck before 5 a.m. several days a week. He’s a one-truck, one-man show at this point; driver, mechanic, manager and marketing director.
Garbage trucks don’t come cheap, and they get lousy gas mileage. Koeckeritz bought a used truck, and sought advice from local waste haulers and companies in other states that collect food waste.
He’s researched where he could rent a truck — yes, you can rent a garbage truck — if his were to suffer a serious breakdown.“The operating costs are high right now, but every time I get a new customer on an existing route that drives my cost down,” Koeckeritz said last week. “Just this week I picked up three new customers.”
Food Waste Disposal isn’t the only company that’s picking up food waste in Charleston County. The county lists FWD as one of six partners in its commercial food waste recycling initiative.
But Koeckeritz’s company is the only one that deals exclusively with compostable waste. He’s hoping to get some institutional customers, such as schools, colleges and hospitals.
Koeckeritz believes he’s getting in early on what should be a growing and successful niche business.
“It’s about being local and being sustainable,” he said. “I want to do something meaningful and relevant to the community.”
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.