The city of Orlando this month is expanding its commercial food waste collection program, previously a pilot, to make it available to all area businesses.
Ian Jurgensen, sustainability project manager for the city, talked with Waste360 about the program, its development, progress, challenges and goals.
Waste360: What’s the status of the program right now?
Ian Jurgensen: We started the program last fall with three participants in the pilot, and since then have expanded up to six. So we have the Hyatt Regency at Orlando International Airport; the Marriott at Orlando International Airport; Golden Corral; East End Market; the Grand Bohemian Hotel, downtown Orlando; and IKEA.
So we’ve expanded in almost a year now to those six customers, slowly increasing our capacity to make sure that we weren’t outgrowing our boots during our pilot program. But recently, on Aug. 3, we had a work-along with Mayor Buddy Dyer at the Hyatt as kind of an official program announcement that we are open for full business and ready to take on additional customers.
Waste360: Can you explain some of the details of the program?
Ian Jurgensen: We do commercial food waste collection through 65-gallon carts. We provide the carts to the customer at no charge. We also provide kind of front-end education and team building for the business that’s interested in being a part of the program. We give out 60 sample bags, because we need to use compostable bags. So they don’t have to worry about supplying a new bag before they start the program. They can start the program and then take a week to get their supply chains for the bags in place.
We’ll go in and do some training of the staff. We’ve offered presentations for new customers also to talk about food waste as a global and national issue so that the staff really understands that this just isn’t a new program, it’s not some new oppressive policy that they have to comply with–it’s a program that’s voluntary that the businesses taken on in order to save money and provide an environmental benefit that landfilling that food waste would not provide. We’re also able to increase our landfill diversion, and stop some of that methane from getting into the atmosphere.
We’ll start them out and the first three months are free, and that allows us to determine the proper level of service to make sure they have the right number of carts. We can add carts or subtract carts as required throughout the course of the program. But we like to use that first three months to really dial in the service, so that once we do start charging the customer, they feel like they’re getting the proper level of service.
We’re currently collecting on one route; we have a single rear-end loader truck that collects those six customers. It takes the food waste up to a composting facility called Vista that’s run by Waste Management. They use windrow composting to turn that food waste and yard waste into compost that is U.S. Compost Council testing assurance certified.
Waste360: What will be the fee for that once you start charging customers?
Ian Jurgensen: The charge is $14.25 per cart per month per collection day. So the way it breaks down is if a customer has one cart collected once a week, that would be $14.25 for that cart for the entire month. If that same cart is collected twice a week, that’s $28.50 for that one cart collected twice a week over the course of the entire month. We do collections Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. So the basic math works out from there, depending on how many carts you need and how often you want them collected.
We always recommend that customers collect three times because it’s food waste. So depending on what’s in the cart, sometimes people don’t want to have that sitting around–even though if you think about it that same waste would be in the dumpster if it wasn’t in the cart, so it really isn’t that much of a difference–but people have a little bit of a mental block from having all that food sitting in the cart where it’s not mixed in with the rest of their garbage. But we do have people that only want to give the food waste twice a week, so they do Mondays and Fridays.
We’re looking at increasing the route as soon as we have enough customers to justify that, and that is coming very soon. We have some very interesting prospects on the horizon.
Waste360: And now it’s expanding to all businesses?
Ian Jurgensen: Yes, it takes effect immediately. We had a pilot where we were working with specific customers that we were put into contact with or that we contacted directly or that we had existing relationships (with). Just kind of testing it out, making sure that it all works and that we can really get service figured out before we took it citywide. And now that we feel that we are able to provide not only good customer service but provide good collection infrastructure and make sure that everything is done in a way that’s going to be good for the business, we’re able to open it up for the public.
So as Aug. 3 we’re fully open. So any food service business that’s interested in collecting commercial food waste can contact the city of Orlando, and I will come out and have a meeting with them about a program designed for their business and what they have in their waste stream, and walk them through the process of getting the program started and starting the schedule, from staff training and get them ready to get on board.
Florida Hospital (Orlando) is coming on board Sept. 1, and I’m doing staff training with them at the end of August. We’re going to be training 245 of their staff members on food waste collection.
Waste360: What’s been the overall thinking and philosophy that led to the development of this program?
Ian Jurgensen: We began offering the program because we have a goal of 50-percent waste diversion by 2018, and zero waste by 2040. Those goals are set by our GreenWorks Orlando program. That’s Mayor Buddy Dyer’s sustainability initiative for the city of Orlando. We work with every city division to bring these sustainability goals into fruition. We do long-term planning, we do program development and project management in each of seven different focus areas, and waste happens to be one of the major focus areas that we’re working on.
So in order to reach that goal, especially the zero waste by 2040 goal, we started to think about the portions of the waste stream that we were currently not addressing. And the major portion that we weren’t addressing was food waste. We have our residential recycling program, we have a commercial recycling program, and there’s a robust commercial recycling market in Orlando, a private market that supplements the city’s collection. But we didn’t have anything that was targeted toward food waste.
So we started this commercial food waste pilot last fall as a means to test the waters to see how viable it would be for us as a solid business first and foremost, to see how we could go about achieving those goals. After we started that pilot program we also introduced our backyard composting program. We provide composters to city residents at no charge. We deliver it to them assembled at no charge right to their front door. We know there’s a lot of cities that have composting programs, but to our knowledge … we’re the only city in the country that currently provides composters free of charge that we assemble and we deliver to the residents’ front door. Through that program we’ve delivered about 2,000 composters. And that numbers grows every week.
Waste360: What have been the big challenges so far?
Ian Jurgensen: Mostly it’s getting staff in the restaurant or hotel on board and fully educated and ready to go. We find that a lot of times big names in hotels and restaurants and other food businesses, they have national sustainability and waste diversion goals that their corporate offices are driving down from that level. So a lot of these places are already thinking about food waste and waste diversion. And up until we’ve provided this program there wasn’t a very effective way for them to be able to do that in the city of Orlando. Now that we’re providing this program as we reach out to people we’re finding that companies are very receptive and want to divert food waste. They have the same kind of sustainability and corporate social responsibility goals as we do. So this program really helps them align those goals with actionable solutions.
Oftentimes the more difficult part comes with education and training staff on the ground, just to fully understand why the program is important, what their role in it is, and how the program will affect their day-to-day. Oftentimes in these businesses you have temp employees in and out, or there’s a banquet that comes in, and you have a bunch of temp wait staff that comes in, and are responsible for handling the food on the customer side and handling the food on the waste side. So getting those policies in place at any given location so that they know how to adequately educate that temp staff when they come in, is certainly a challenge. But that’s mostly just a factor of the supervisors in the business and the managers in the business being engaged in the process.
We really found that they are incredibly engaged there, very excited about what we doing, and they’re very excited about waste diversion, and the staff is too. We go out to these trainings and it’s amazing. We have a commercial food waste handbook that we give out that kind of outlines the big picture of food waste. I’ve been told by managers of these businesses that they see their staff still reading them weeks later. It’s a fairly straight-forward training document, but it’s just good to know that the values of waste diversion and sustainability are built in to a lot of these companies. It’s very good to hear those kinds of stories.
Waste360: Beyond the city’s stated goals, what does it hope to achieve with this program?
Ian Jurgensen: We have kind of stretch goals for the program we’ve set internally just to keep ourselves moving forward. In this program in particular, aside from reaching our waste diversion goals, which are our number one priority, our prime concern at all times is to provide quality customer service and quality collection. That is always what we consider first and foremost.
But the program itself is targeted at waste diversion. We’re hoping to increase to 20 businesses by the end of year, and we’re hoping to continue to grow that number on a year-by-year basis, building momentum as more and more businesses come on board. We’re having open conversations with lot of big players in the food service industry. Places with multiple locations, companies with multiple brands in their portfolio, and dozens of new spaces that we’re already starting to talk with and who may be moving forward in the next couple of months.