More than 21 tons of organic waste have been hauled away from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business since mid-February. The truck that carries the waste does not stop at a landfill. Instead, Eric Walter, owner of Black Bear Composting, takes the waste he collects to his facility in Crimora, Virginia, where it is prepared to once again become part of the earth.
“Converting organic waste is a six-month process from start to finish. In the end, we have useful compost,” said Walter. “Compost is full of rich organic matter that improves soil health, which results in healthier plants requiring less chemical inputs for fertilizing and pest control.”
Walter’s company turns organic waste into a soil additive that can be used in gardens to grow flowers or food. The entrepreneur has partnered with Darden in its efforts to become a zero waste enterprise. He helped launch a pilot kitchen food waste composting program in Darden’s Abbott Center Dining Room earlier this year. Since working with kitchen staff to plan and execute the program, the collection process has run smoothly.
“Our pilot composting program with Black Bear Composting has enabled us to divert 50 percent of the Darden School’s waste stream while helping support sustaining business innovation within the Charlottesville area,” says Keith Crawford, Darden’s facilities manager. “It is a significant step toward realizing Darden’s zero waste by 2020 goal and a demonstration of value creation through a combined vision of improved economic, social and environmental performance.”
“I am delighted that Eric Walter is on board with our efforts to reduce waste and that the program has been successful so far. This project is the culmination of a long period of research and examination,” said Erika Herz, Darden manager of sustainability programs and managing director for the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability (ARCS), an organization that advances research and convenes scholars addressing sustainability issues in business.
The research process to study the efficacy of implementing a composting program included Darden students. An initial for-credit project in sustainability by Zoe Robins (MBA ’09) evaluated the costs and benefits of three different processes for composting Darden’s waste. A 2012 study, “Technology Solutions for Organic Waste Diversion at Darden,” by Class of 2012 MBA students Jonathan Harris and Faton Gjuka, examines the tradeoffs between composting and anaerobic digestion of food waste and outlines the feasibility of the latter. Anaerobic digestion is a process by which microorganisms eat away at organic waste in the absence of oxygen. The process is sometimes used to generate renewable energy.
“This type of student-generated information has also been integral to the process of moving toward zero waste at Darden,” Herz adds.
There are many options that all help the planet in different ways. In the meantime, much of the energy produced from organic waste goes unused, according to Walter.
“Right now, many people are still discarding a valuable resource. Not only is organic waste thrown away, but it also creates methane. When organic waste biodegrades in a landfill it does so without oxygen and the biproduct of that decomposition without oxygen creates methane, which is actually 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the most commonly known greenhouse gas.”
In other words, methane is more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, which isn’t healthy for the planet. Walter says that his process diverts organic waste from landfills. In addition, he reports using less energy than the amount needed to get to a landfill because he avoids transfer stations. When Walter leaves his customers, he drives directly to his facility.
Making pickup easy for Walter begins in Abbott Center Dining Room’s kitchen. The new process did not interrupt normal operating efficiencies.
“It didn’t create a lot of change for kitchen staff. There are pineapple skins, melon skins, coffee grounds, things like that are thrown into the compost and they really add up,” said Tom Cervelloni, director of food and beverage at the Darden School. Recently, he discussed the composting process at work in the Abbott Center Dining Room and his goals for closing the circle by reusing, reducing and recycling.
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