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(VIDEO) Eco-Products' new program helps prevent contamination in compost streams

While food scraps, yard trimmings, and certified compostable packaging can be composted, anything else creates serious problems for composters. Adobe Stock Images

Eco-Products has started a new program to help food service operators keep non-compostable items out of organics streams.

The program is called Controls Intended to Remove Contamination (CIRC) and it will verify that restaurants and other operators are taking important steps to prevent non-compostable materials from being sent to composting facilities.

While food scraps, yard trimmings, and certified compostable packaging can be composted, anything else creates serious problems for composters.

"Contamination from non-compostable products is the defining challenge for many composters today," said Wendell Simonson, director of marketing at Eco-Products. "Unfortunately, most composters have an extremely limited ability to deal with contamination once it gets to their facilities. That's why food service operators must put controls in place to prevent that contamination from ever getting to composters in the first place."

CIRC is designed to help food service operators take measures to do just that – and verify those efforts so composters can be more confident about accepting material from them. The program features scorecards that food service operators will use to show composters and haulers that the necessary controls are in place to generate contaminant-free organics streams. The scorecard is divided into four sections – procurement, operations, communications, and hauler engagement – that contain criteria and conditions that are either required or encouraged.

The program will be "open-sourced," meaning that the scorecards and other supporting materials will be available to anyone interested in using them and Eco-Products will not be charging a fee to participate.

Individual composting facilities would be able to determine their own "passing" scores, and which conditions are required or encouraged. Among the criteria that will be used:

  • Is there an ordering guide in place for compostable products that has been approved by the composter?
  • Is there an agreement in place with the distributor to stock all items on the ordering guide?
  • Are employees actively engaged in the management of waste streams?
  • Do guests receive clear instructions regarding how to discard compostable and non-compostable food service items?
  • Is messaging provided in the venue and through labelling on compostable items?
  • Is there an on-site sorting process in place to inspect all organics streams before they are picked up by the hauler?

The new program was launched after a 2022 study looking at contamination in food service waste streams found that restaurants and other venues could divert more food scraps and other materials from landfills by adopting compostable packaging as part of an integrated approach to their operations.

The CompostAble Chicago study examined four food service venues in the Chicago area – a full-service restaurant, a museum quick-serve café, a school cafeteria, and a university quick-serve café – and collected data on operating conditions and the composition of their waste streams.

The study found that venues using compostable cups, plates, and utensils collected more food scraps under favourable operating conditions. Importantly, those food scraps could be relied upon to contain lower levels of contamination when key operating conditions were met.

"Organics diversion at scale in the foodservice industry is impossible without composter willingness to accept and process post-consumer food scraps and certified packaging," Simonson said. "An operator-driven systems approach to contamination mitigation is long overdue."

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