By Kristin Hackler
Commercial composting in Charleston just got a lot easier with the launch of the new compost collection company Food Waste Disposal (FWD). The result of hundreds of hours of research and with the help of family and friends, former Sanctuary Director of Engineering Wayne Koeckeritz made his very first collection run in late February of this year and in three weeks had already diverted more than 7,000 pounds of compost from the landfill.
“It’s a new concept for restaurants, but it’s very simple and easy to explain,” said Koeckeritz.
Working with the new commercial composting center at the Bees Ferry landfill, Koeckeritz collects food waste from both commercial and residential bins designated for composting up to three times a week. For residents, it’s valuable in that commercial composting allows products that don’t easily compost in residential composting piles to biodegrade in the higher temperatures of a commercial site. For commercial businesses such as restaurants and hotels, the composting service not only offers them a way to be more eco-friendly and reduce their carbon footprint, it also helps them cut down on the cost of their current garbage services.
“I don’t tell businesses they’re saving money, rather they are reducing their county user fee and lowering their trash hauling expenses, so the balance comes out pretty close to even,” said Koeckeritz.
For example, every time a trash collector picks up trash, the county sends a user assessment fee per cubic yard. For a four cubic yard garbage bin, a company may be assessed around $700 per year. By composting, they can reduce their garbage bin size by half or even more, and save that amount with their waste hauler.
“It’s the last thing people usually think about when opening a restaurant,” said Koeckeritz. In fact, up to 80 percent of the waste stream in restaurants could be diverted to composting, while another 15 percent could be converted to recyclable products.
What’s more, many consumers don’t know that items listed as compostable don’t compost unless placed in a commercial composting site.
“For example, products like plasticware, cups, bowls, and to-go containers that are listed as ‘compostable’ only compost in the higher heat of commercial composting centers,” said Koeckeritz, noting that temperatures can get up to 160 degrees in commercial sites.
“Think about a good piece of stew meat,” said Koeckeritz. “If you put it in a crock pot at 160 degrees and leave it for a week, it will be unrecognizable – that’s why commercial composting can take and actually compost more products than a residential compost pile.”
Commercial composting can take all fruits, all vegetables, bread, dough, bakery items, pasta, grains, coffee grounds and tea with filters, dairy products such as milk and cheese, processed foods, eggs, consumable liquids, cooked meats and fish, shells, bones, wooded skewers and cocktail sticks, and even food-soiled papers such as paper bags, paper towels, paper napkins and waxed cardboard boxes.
“Because you can basically compost everything leftover on a diner’s plate, including the napkin, it’s making restaurants reconsider how they handle their food waste,” said Koeckeritz.
Koeckeritz currently serves several businesses, including The Sanctuary, Sunrise Bistro, T-Bonz in West Ashley, and Taco Boy in downtown Charleston, as well as a small homeowners association on James Island. And with a truck hauling capacity of 15 tons, Koeckeritz has room to grow.
“At the end of the day, I’m a garbage man – a green garbage man,” smiled Koeckeritz, but he’s really more than that. By making it easier for local businesses and residents to compost their food waste, he’s already making a significant dent on what it thrown into our county landfill. He’s even participating in area festivals, collecting the compostable waste from the SEWE Festival, the Cajun Festival, and the upcoming Dirt Fair on Johns Island.
“Restaurants have had to change how they serve products, but it’s changes that most of them want to make,” said Koeckeritz.
“We have to scrape plates anyway, so it’s not hard to keep up with and it’s definitely not an inconvenience,” said Jessica Welenteichick, owner of Sunrise Bistro on Johns Island. “We’ve found that there’s a lot more that’s compostable than we knew before we started, and we’re getting accustomed to it – though I sometimes have to remind the chef when things can be composted,” she smiled.
As part of the move toward business-wide composting, Welenteichick is switching out her plastic coffee stirrers with wooden ones, and replacing her ketchup packets with a pump for in-house diners.
“We’re still getting through the last of our plastics and moving to paper, but we’ll soon have a lot less trash,” said Welenteichick.