Back to Nature

Back to Nature

Atlanta-area firm collects organic waste — food, yard and wood waste — to make compost.

A decade ago recycling was all about plastic and aluminum. Times have changed.

Today, recycling includes making use of cardboard, wax cardboard, paper products, yard waste, wood waste and food waste. Organic matter is valuable and can easily be diverted from landfills.

Norcross, Ga.-based Greenco Environmental collects food waste, yard waste and wood waste from companies in the southeastern United States to create a high-quality compost. More than 27 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW) in Georgia's landfills is composed of organic waste that can be reused and turned into organic compost. Of that 27 percent, 44 percent is comprised of food waste, and 17 percent is yard and wood waste.

“It's incredible the amount of viable waste being dumped into landfills unnecessarily,” says Tim Lesko, president and founder of Greenco. “Most commercial food waste, yard waste and wood waste generators don't even realize that their residuals can be diverted and reused for relatively the same price it costs them to send it to a landfill.”

Food Waste

Both pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste generated by food processing manufacturers, hospitals, supermarkets, restaurants, universities and feed industries can be turned into organic compost and reused.

According to Lesko, education, training and employee responsibility are essential to making an organics recycling program work for all parties. Restaurants, for example, often are working with limited space and have little room for a new waste bin or extra step in their disposal process. Greenco's training team observes the employees prior to setting up a program in order to customize the waste separation and collection to make it as easy as possible.

Pre-consumer food waste is the easiest source of compostable material. This material waste is generally already separated from the rest of the waste stream and has not been contaminated. Using post-consumer food waste (table scraps from restaurants, hospitals and universities) can be more challenging because of separation issues.

“In many cases, our new customers will be going from absolutely zero recycling to trying to recycle everything they can,” Lesko says. “That's a big change and can be a little bit painful at first. We believe it's our responsibility to communicate with the team, make their program easy and efficient, while helping them see the value of their effort. In truth, many of these employees have been recycling at home and are pleased that their workplace is doing the same.”

Keeping food waste separated is essential to any composter. Quality control through vigilant inspection, high standards in training and implementation ensure the creation of a high-quality soil amendment product.

Yard & Wood Waste

Food waste is only part of the recipe for compost. Essential to any composting formula is the contribution of carbon sources — yard and wood waste.

Lumber companies, landscapers, tree cutters and furniture manufacturers often have dumped their waste in inert landfills (landfills that only take rock, dirt, concrete, asphalt and yard/wood waste). Sometimes, portions of this waste are chipped and sold to be used as boiler fuel.

“In just the past year, our company has diverted 671 tons of wood waste to Greenco,” says Spence Rosenfeld, found of Arborguard, a tree care company.

The financial bottom line for landscapers and lumber companies does not have to change as a result of diverting their waste from landfills to a composting facility. And as a bonus, companies that collect their food, yard and wood waste will find that promoting their composting efforts can strengthen their credibility and connection with their customers.

The Greenco Process

Tim, his wife Melia and his brother Russ started Greenco in 2007 with the aim of diverting organic waste for large companies in the South. The company received the first commercial food waste composting permit issued by the Environmental Protection Department of Georgia.

Today, Greenco has customers both large and small. For example, Whole Foods of metro Atlanta diverts almost 800 tons of food residuals annually with Greenco. And FreshPoint of Atlanta, a division of Sysco Foods, is diverting over 30 tons of food waste every seven days.

No matter what the size of the client, all must separate compostable waste from non-compostable waste on their own.

For high-volume customers, Greenco services their facilities by providing self-contained compactors and/or open-top containers and then picking up the waste with its roll-off fleet. For smaller volume customers, 35-gallon carts are provided for the compostable material; the carts are picked up by Greenco's front-end loader that is equipped with a cart tipper.

The collected food waste is then hauled to the Greenco's compost facility in Barnesville, Ga., where it is dumped into a concrete storage area for processing. Initially, Greenco employees will look to identify any contaminants — primarily plastic — remove them and then grind the residuals through a pulverizer. These small shards of food waste are then combined with yard trimmings and wood waste.

Next, the product is placed in an outdoor windrow area. Each windrow on the 32-acre facility is six feet high, 11 feet wide and 100 feet long. The temperatures are monitored on a daily basis to optimize air porosity and moisture content so that a high-quality compost is the end result.

After approximately 90 days, the compost is screened and filtered for the end user market. It is sold for agricultural use and to landscapers and nurseries.

“Options on diverting waste are evolving all the time, and composting the huge amount of organic matter that is going into our landfills is simply logical,” says Lesko, who is a member of the Georgia Recycling Coalition and the Metro Atlanta Landscape and Turf Association (MALTA). “It's all about closing the loop on our waste by recycling, reusing and finding renewed ways to use our residuals productively.”

Clients of Composters

When a company is interested in collecting its organic waste for composting, the initial commitment must be made by the leaders of the company. This is a top-down driven initiative, Lesko says. Management needs to understand what the process entails, and they need to infuse it into their company culture.

“The idea of being a socially responsible company is not going away,” says Lesko, “It's not a fad to be ‘green.’ Recycling is here to stay. Recycling of food residuals is yet another avenue to reduce waste in our landfills, recycle viable organic products and reuse the result as organic fertilizer.”

Randi Leader-Oakes is a writer and public relations consultant in Atlanta and Toronto. Greenco's Web site is

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