Nonprofit Global Green, based in Santa Monica, Calif., is working with California municipalities, waste haulers and property managers to pilot food waste diversion programs at multifamily dwellings (MFDs).
The initiative includes 31 buildings in the Bay area and Los Angeles County. Material is picked up and processed to make compost soil amendment sold to agricultural land owners or retailers, with some compost given away to community members.
In the 27 buildings receiving service for the first time, diversion went from 0 to an average of 70 pounds per week per building, says Matt De la Houssaye, director of the coalition for resource recovery at Global Green. And at the few sites already addressing organic waste, diversion improved.
Global Green plans to bring the program to three to five more cities. The key to doing that will be leveraging property managers and residents called “eco-ambassadors,” who will speak with property management and city agencies about setting up collection services where these ambassadors live.
“We are training eco-ambassadors to propagate food waste prevention and recycling outreach through their communities,” says De la Houssaye. “This is enabling us to increase the scope and impact of our program, which would be impossible with only staff outreach.”
The nonprofit has found power in partnerships. Collectively, the San Francisco Department of Environment, Central Contra Costa County Solid Waste Authority, Republic Services, Athens Services, South Bayside Waste Management Authority, the city of Santa Monica and several property managers among others played roles from identifying pilot sites, to providing educational materials and food scrap pails, to initiating collection services.
Resources for Community Development (RCD), which owns rental properties for low-income residents, worked with Global Green to roll out or improve collections at eight sites throughout Contra Costa County.
RCD Portfolio Manager Mary Dorst says, “From the landlord/owners’ perspective, we want to reduce our waste, waste costs and carbon footprint and increase organics recycling where available.”
Among program features, RCD property managers reported they liked incentives for participation; that Global Green’s outreach to residents freed site staff for other tasks; and easy collaboration and scheduling.
Some sites are seeing fewer bags used and increased composting, while others are experiencing a few drawbacks. At one location, residents who were accustomed to blue recycling bins and garbage bins were confused by the brown compost carts.
AvalonBay Communities, a national real estate investment trust that leases luxury apartments, has pilots at two of its Santa Monica properties. At least 80 percent of residents are participating.
“People are excited about it, says Miriam Wyms, community consultant at Avalon Santa Monica Main. “We did a competition where residents talked about their experience composting and why they think it’s important. Global Green gave winners a gift certificate.”
The company is considering recruiting eco-ambassadors.
“If neighbors hear from other neighbors that we are trying to care for our shared community others are more inclined to get involved,” says Wyms.
Because Avalon owns properties across the U.S., there is potential for it to play a role in seeing similar programs go even further, Wyms believes.
“If we could get each property involved I think other large properties may choose to participate. It becomes a snowball effect, and that’s where you make a change,” says Wyms.
Strong cooperative relationships with the buildings’ management is key to making these programs work, says Jessica Aldridge, sustainability manager for Athens Services and 2016 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient, who was involved in developing the L.A. County pilot where the waste management company already had a strong presence. Athens also partnered with Global Green on an earlier Los Angeles project.
“If something changes, such as new tenants, new custodial staff or a major renovation, participation and contamination are directly affected, says Aldridge. “Creating goals and defining expectations (with building management) from the onset will help in avoiding or getting ahead of potential speed bumps.”
Working with its partners, Aldridge says Athens developed “a strong program that can be implemented at a larger scale and (most importantly) across building types and demographics. The pilot program afforded the opportunity to experiment with and fine-tune our outreach material and approach.”
One of the greatest challenges across all projects was getting cities and real estate managers to take the first step. But once logistics were in place and operations were up and running, momentum began to build, says de la Houssaye.
Since implementation of the programs, partners have already exceeded the project goal of 500 households, reaching 651 homes across California.
“From data collected at 29 sites, an average of 1.5 pounds of organic material was diverted per household weekly, says de la Houssaye. “We look forward to continuing to expand.”