Waste no more, area businesses continue to give food scraps new life

By Andrea Papagianis

From the ground and back, food scraps from area businesses are making it full circle and returning to the earth they came from, averting being discarded at the county landfill.

What began in 2010 as a year-long pilot program to wean businesses off landfill use, with a $400,000 grant from OC Waste & Recycling, continues today on a voluntary basis, said Maria Lazaruk, senior compliance manager at CR&R.

According to CR&R, between January 2012 and February 2013, participating businesses in the cities of Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente diverted approximately 322, 140 and 115 tons—respectively—of food waste from landfills.

That’s a total of 577 tons, or 115,000 pounds of food scraps, from 13 businesses being converted from trash to nutrient-based composts in just 13 months. And the tonnage from Dana Point comes from only three participants—Salt Creek Grille, The St. Regis Monarch Beach and The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.

At the Fisherman’s Restaurant in San Clemente, employees there are accountable for nearly 60 percent of the city’s weight collected, said Danna McIntosh, San Clemente’s environmental services coordinator.

Now, the food recycling service, once limited to 41 businesses in Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Juan Capistrano, Tustin, Laguna Hills and unincorporated areas of the county, is being offered to all restaurants and business that use CR&R trash hauling and environmental services, Lazaruk said.

Just two weeks ago, Albertson’s locations in Dana Point and San Clemente came on board and from the flower, produce, bakery and meat departments, everyone is partaking in the program, McIntosh said.

But expansion of the program has been slow, she added.

“The problem before was that within our culture and the country it was cheaper to trash everything, and for the first time in history it is finally more expensive to trash than to recycle, which is encouraging more people,” she said, adding it costs businesses half as much to recycle than it does to trash.

McIntosh, who oversaw the beginnings of the food scrap-recycling program, said in an effort to expand the service, the involved cities and CR&R are reaching out to educate area businesses on both the cost and environmental savings.

One motivating factor for business participation, Lazaruk said, could be state Assembly Bill 341, since an estimated 45 percent of restaurant waste comes from food. The bill, which took effect in July, requires all California businesses, generating four cubic yards—or a dumpster—of waste each week, to recycle at least 50 percent of the refuse.

The adopted measure aims to achieve the state’s goal of diverting 75 percent of solid waste from landfills by 2020, something Lazaruk said south Orange County is on track to accomplish.

With CR&R slated to open a new processing facility in Perris next year, Lazaruk said, someday—in the near future—residential curbside pick-up could include food waste. Right now all food waste is trucked 150 miles to a composting facility in Thermal, 25 miles outside of Palm Springs.

“The hope is that those of us at home can start mixing food waste and green waste, so that will stop being land-filled too,” McIntosh said.

For more information on commercial food recycling, visit www.crrwasteservices.com.

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