Diverting Food Waste from Landfills
by Deena Kloss
Until recently, it wasn’t easy to recycle in Columbus. Instead, most waste was sent to landfills, aluminum was considered garbage, and the concept of collecting food scraps was limited to massive scale food prep operations that transported scraps to factory farms to be used as cheap animal feed.
Today, the topic of food waste is big news in the mainstream media. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans throw out the equivalent of $165 billion of good food a year, averaging about 20 pounds of edible items each month, or around $1,650 a year for a family of four. In restaurants, most waste is generated from food prep and is even more costly.
When Elizabeth Lessner of the Columbus Food League wanted her six restaurants [Betty’s Fine Food & Spirits, Surly Girl Saloon, Tip Top Kitchen & Cocktails, Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace, Jury Room, and Grass Skirt] to go zero-waste, she was faced with a challenge: Franklin County outlaws diverting food waste from the landfill. The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) is funded in large part by landfill tipping fees, and diverting heavy food waste would eat into their bottom line. Working together with SWACO, public officials and local leaders over time, Lessner received permission to divert food waste via her new business, Eartha Limited.
Using a small truck partially powered by biodiesel generated from recycled fryer oil, Eartha hauls food waste from establishments such as The Ohio State University, Center of Science and Industry (COSI), Northstar Café, Pattycake Bakery and even select White Castle locations, to Ohio Mulch for repurposing into compost under the brand name Green Envy. This high-grade matter is frequently used in the landscaping design at some of the same restaurants where the waste was initially generated.
Eartha Limited is expanding its reach in the greater Columbus region, working with restaurants, public school districts, colleges and universities, bakeries, craft brewers, corporate cafeterias, sports arenas, outdoor music and cultural festivals, caterers and catered events, groceries and others to divert food scraps from landfills. Lessner believes that even more can be done to trim waste on the front end, and as the concept enters everyday awareness, homeowners, too, are beginning to see the benefits of reducing food waste—via composting—at home.