Compostable waste: A harmful marketing tactic for mother earth

At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, McNicholas’ café staff announced they had gone Styrofoam free. Ideally this would allow any of the new packaging to biodegrade within 90 days of disposal. Initially, this change received high praise. However, in the State of Ohio, in order to compost the type of containers used in the McNicholas café, a Class II facility is needed. The Ohio EPA defines a Class II composting facility as one that processes: Yard waste, agricultural plant materials, animal waste, dead animals, raw rendering material and food scraps.

Science teacher Mary Dennemann said McNicholas’ café goes through roughly 100 salad containers a day, which equivocates to 500 a week. McNicholas does not have the time nor resources to compost these in addition to food scraps. The Ohio State University in Columbus and Findlay Market in Cincinnati both have composting facilities, however both are only big enough to compost their own waste.  

According to the Ohio EPA, in order to become a Class ll composting facility, one must “submit a registration application form to Ohio EPA’s eBusiness Center, submit written letters of intent to either the County’s commissioner, or board of township trustee, as well as to the local solid waste management district, the owner or lessee of any easement or right of way bordering or within the proposed facility boundaries, the local zoning authority, park system administrator and conservancy district and the local fire department. Applicant(s) must also find information regarding the requirements related to air and water quality.” One must also acquire a license to operate compost facilities, and there is a fee attached to the license based on the maximum daily waste receipt to be accepted at the facility.

Just because companies and restaurants claim to use compostable products and compost any food waste, does not necessarily mean it is helping the environment- it’s actually doing more harm. Some biodegradable materials are two to ten times more expensive to produce than non-biodegradable materials. If the loop of composting isn’t closed, it does more harm. Restaurants that claim to compost their waste, must make sure that there is a composting facility that can take the waste. In Ohio, the nearest Class ll facilities are The Ohio State’s University and Findlay Market’s, and they can only handle their own waste, being that all restaurants that use compostable products and claim to be helping the environment actually aren’t.

Findlay Market is the only Class ll composting facility in an urban area in the state of Ohio and they only have enough space to compost their own vendors waste products. Findlay Market’s district facility manager Kris Zaremba doesn’t think it’s necessarily intentional dishonesty from companies who claim to compost their waste, rather there just isn’t enough leadership and oversight to make sure the loop of composting is closed.

McNicholas partners with Derringer Company to provide cafeteria food, and brought the idea of using compostable lunch containers to the kitchen staff. Kitchen Manager Donna Spears said, “[McNick] had the efforts to [have] a recycling program which is great, and I think the intention was to put composting in with it, but we use such a large volume of compostable product [and] we just don’t have the means to [composte it all.]”   The salad containers in the McNicholas café cannot be recycled. They end up in the landfill with other waste that isn’t even marketed as being good for the earth in the first place. If you really want to strive to be more environmentally friendly, one of the best ways to do that is to make use of reusable food containers. Though it may take more effort on the consumers end to clean them, it is significantly better for the environment and drastically decreases the amount of single use plastics in the landfill.

The amount of waste projected to be composted comes with the need for a license to operate, which comes with a fee. McNicholas doesn’t have the resources to obtain and maintain a compost system

(Image courtesy of The Ohio EPA).
Thumbnail image courtesy of College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

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