Composting at the US Capitol
April 16, 2010
by Sameer Rashid, Business Development Manager
I had lunch with some of my colleagues at the Longworth Cafeteria in Washington, DC a few weeks ago. We were discussing the food waste composting opportunities in the DC metro area. You might be thinking, “Harvest employees talk about food waste and renewable energy??? Shocker.”
What made this discussion unique was the setting. The Longworth Cafeteria isn’t just any old place to grab lunch. In fact, it is the main cafeteria for the US House of Representatives and serves over 140,000 people per month. What makes it even more special, is that a large majority of the waste generated at the cafeteria is compostable and more importantly, that organic material is actually composted.
In 2007, the House leadership began the ‘Green The Capitol’ initiative. One of the key elements of this effort was to develop a compostable solution for Longworth and the other House cafeterias. The House Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) worked w/ Aidan Murphy of Sustainable Operations Solutions, to implement an innovative but simple solution for separating organic waste at the source. The result is a very high recycling rate for the cafeteria (close to 100%) , little to no contaminants in the separated organic waste stream, and a great example for the rest of the country.
So what was the secret to this successful source-separation program? The House decided to make sure that all of its containers, utensils, and service-ware are compostable. Eliminating plastics and other non-compostable packaging makes it quite easy for customers and employees to know what material should go in what bin (i.e. almost everything into compost bin).
Additionally, the design of the recycling, composting, and trash station was quite clever and built for customers who aren’t used to separating organics as the source, which is still relatively new for most Americans. We all prefer simple and convenient solutions, especially for something as mundane as throwing your trash away. The House design makes source-separation a decision that doesn’t require much thought but also subtly reminds you that we can make better choices about what we throw away.
The Longworth Source-Separation solution:
1. The compostable bin is clearly marked.
2. The shape of the openings are intuitive and conducive towards putting your waste in the right bin:
a) Compostables go in the large hole
b) Cans and bottles in the small round recycling hole that is becoming a common and recognizable feature for traditional recycling
c) The very few leftover bits of actual trash then go in the narrow garbage slot marked Landfill Waste
3. Afterwards, the compostable material is inspected and its volume is reduced. The organics are stored in a green bin and are ready to be picked up by the food waste hauler.
In my opinion, this is a great example of how simple ideas and a small change in infrastructure and behavior can produce clean food waste that can be used in a much more sustainable and cost effective manner. The House lowered its disposal costs and has implemented a program that can and should be replicated at cafeterias and restaurants throughout the country.
Hopefully soon, Harvest will be able to green our nation’s capital even further by operating a local HSAD organics recycling facility that produces renewable biogas in addition to compost using Longworth’s and other organic waste generators material!