Diverting Organic Waste: Why Keeping Food Waste out of the Landfill is Important

It is widely discussed amongst environmental scholars, waste management professionals, business owners and residents that diverting organic material from the landfill is the ‘right thing to do.’ But why is it the right thing to do?

Organic waste is something that we inherently create as humans through our consumption patterns. Making sure it goes into the right recycling stream is important because:

1. Less waste = less garbage in the landfill = better for the environment

The most simplistic and basic answer to this goes back to learning the three R’s in grade school. Reducing, reusing and recycling our waste means that less garbage goes into the landfill, which in turn, is better for the environment. It is important to keep in mind that properly disposing of your organic material saves valuable space in our landfills that could otherwise hold actual garbage material. By decreasing the amount of material entering the landfill, fewer landfills will need to be constructed and this means that less environmental resources will become derogated (land, trees, animal habitat, animals, etc) to build new landfill sites.
In addition, by keeping organic material out of the landfill, the impact on climate change is reduced. When organic material is put into the landfill, it decomposes and produces gases, primarily composed of methane and carbon dioxide. Methane gas is the leading greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Given this, if you properly dispose of organic waste and divert it from the landfill, you are decreasing your impact on climate change and assisting further in protecting the environment.

2. Saving money on waste disposal costs

In most municipalities, it costs extra to dispose of excess garbage. For example, for us here in the Niagara Region, we are limited to 1 bag of garbage per week with unlimited recycling (including organics). If you exceed the 1 bag limit, you are to buy ‘garbage tags,’ at the cost of $2.00 a tag per extra bag. Although there are reasons beyond not recycling properly that require the purchase of these tags, the majority of residents exceed this limit and have to buy tags because of improper recycling methods, especially organics. By properly recycling, less waste goes into your garbage bag, which can ultimately save you money!
This also holds true for commercial waste disposal. Commercial businesses that use dumpsters to dispose of their waste highly benefit from properly recycling practices since less waste within the dumpster means less frequent pick-ups, which equals decreased waste disposal costs. This is also helpful for odours which can develop over a period of time if organics are left unhandled.

3. Creating & Replicating forms of Natural Resources

When you properly dispose of your food waste, there are various resources that can be generated as its end product. Two of the most common resources generated are:

Bio-Gas, Bio-Fuel, & Bio-Diesel
Using an anaerobic digestion process, microorganisms break down biomass to generate Methane gas. This methane gas is then captured to generate Biogas, which is then able to create electricity and power the local grid. Harnessing Biogas is a clean energy alternative that maximizes the value of food wastes. Food that can longer create the gases needed to capture biogas is then turned into fertilizers and soil conditioners to help grow more fruits and veggies. A continuous, renewable cycle!

Creating rich, natural soil through the decomposition of food waste is another alternative to food waste recycling. Composting can be done at any level, residential or industrial and both involve the same process -worms, heat and decomposing food. With these three ‘ingredients,’ coupled with an extended period of time, nutrient rich soil is the result which can be used to continue growing new fruits and veggies.

Becoming a Zero Waste Business is Easier Than You Think

Did you know that approximately 50%of the average garbage bag is made up of organic waste that otherwise could have been composted? Of that average garbage bag, approximately 14% of the material is considered recyclable. This combined makes up a lot of waste that could otherwise be diverted from the landfill and repurposed for other goods. Given this, there is a lot of potential to improve recycling and composting practices within businesses and homes alike.

The concept of ‘zero’ waste is something to strive for, but it is often met with low expectations (as it is ‘too hard to achieve’) and no plan of action. Keep in mind, becoming zero waste is not something you can implement overnight, but there are some small but big changes you can implement to lead the way. Obviously, the best way to minimize your environmental impact through waste disposal is maximizing your diversion. By optimizing your waste disposal streams, you can in-turn divert more, or even everything, from the landfill.

Offering both diversion streams (recycling and organics) within your business is the first step to increasing your diversion. Most municipalities offer these services to commercial business owners, but there are many private companies (like ours) that will handle the disposal for you. Private disposal companies make doing the ‘right thing’ easy for you as the business owner. This way you do not need to rely on employees to bring it to the curb, or clean the bins- it is all taken care for you.

Although it is definitely not hard to implement a good diversion plan, it can, at times, be challenging. The number one reason that businesses fail at achieving ‘zero’ waste is lack of employee buy-in. Generally, the majority of employees do not want to (or do not see the need to) go above and beyond for their workplace. This includes proper disposal of their waste. However, there are things that you can put in place that can help achieve this, depending on the level of commitment you as a business owner have at achieving this waste disposal standard.

1. Incentivize
Perhaps you as the employer could offer incentive based rewards for those who are keen on recycling properly or encouraging the ‘zero’ waste concept.

2. Train
Most employees will blame their lack of diversion on ‘no training.’ Train them to properly divert in each stream, what goes where and why. Use visuals, like posters, above each bin as a reminder.

3. Engage

Although it’s important to incentivize and train, it is also essential to encourage and engage them in supporting your efforts. A few ways to engage employees on creating a ‘zero’ waste environment are:
– Encourage ‘litter-less lunches’
o Litter-less lunches contain no waste. Instead of packing pre-packed foods, encourage the use of containers. This also goes for their reusable lunch bag.
– Have a refillable water bottle station
o This could be an extensive filtered water dispenser or could just be a water cooler. Anything to encourage them to bring a reusable water bottle to work rather than plastic.
– Start a coffee club
o Instead of having your employees stopping for coffee every morning at the local coffee chain, start a coffee club. This would entail each employee to bring a reusable coffee mug from home, and coffee is provided at the office for a small charge.
– Encourage the use of ‘GOOS Paper’
o GOOS paper, also known as good on one side paper, reduces the amount of paper you throw out or recycle. Encourage employees to write on both sides of the paper before disposal. Not only will this initiative help the environment, but will cut costs for you.

Implementing a good waste diversion plan within your business will not only decrease your environmental impact, but will also increase your bottom line.