SANTA FE, N.M. — A pile of food waste as high as Mt. Everest – equivalent to 2 million pounds – is predicted to be diverted from local dumps in the inaugural year of a food waste compost program that began this week in Santa Fe.
The environmental nonprofit Reunity Resources, in partnership with the Santa Fe Environmental Services Division, is picking up food scraps from restaurants and other sources, and delivering it to Payne’s Organic Soil Yard on Agua Fria in Santa Fe. There, over time, micro-organisms will turn it into compost. Unlike backyard composting, this project is able to take all food scraps, including meat and bone, because the pile gets hot enough to destroy any potential germs, according to Tejinder Ciano, Reunity Resources’ executive director.
The program, which has verbal commitments from four restaurants and one institution so far, has several environmental benefits, he said.
“We will provide the city with information on the amount of material gathered and how much is diverted from the landfill, especially since Santa Fe wants to be a zero waste city,” he said. “Now, all of that waste goes to the landfill.”
The city provided 64-gallon rolling carts – your basic green trash cans – for the project. “We drop them off at the restaurants and hotels, and they separate their food waste from their trash and put the scraps into the 64-gallon containers, and we pick them up,” he said. They will be picked up two or three times a week. Certain biodegradable paper products will also be accepted.
“We charge the hotels and restaurants a pick-up fee,” said Ciano. The rates are competitive with the city’s trash collection rates, he said. “We want it to be cost-neutral for them (the restaurants).”
Once Payne’s gets it, the material is put into windrows – composting mounds up to 12 feet high and 4 to 6 feet wide – and Mother Nature does the rest. “It takes quite a fair amount of time to become compost and they (Payne’s) sell it” and get the profit, said Ciano. It takes 12 to 18 months to turn the food waste into compost, he said.
Those verbally signing on are, according to Ciano: Blue Corn Cafe – south side, Restaurant Martín, Geronimo, L’Olivier and Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center. The organization is trying to get the Cowgirl BBQ restaurant and the Spa at Loretto to sign up, said Ciano.
“We are still seeking some places to come on board.”
In addition to reducing the amount of waste filling up landfills, another benefit of the program is reducing the amount of ozone-depleting methane gas in the atmosphere. “When you make compost, you don’t make methane,” said Ciano.