Commercial Composting

It’s Time To Stop Treating Cemeteries Like Toxic Landfills

by Jesi Taylor Cruz

 

Soils are fertile ecosystems that contain living microorganisms, eroded ancient rock materials, and decayed organic matter. When soils on our planet are healthy, they help sustain all life on Earth from the tiniest organisms only visible through microscopes to humans and other animals who call countless different habitats home. Healthy soils help plants thrive, mitigate stormwater runoff, sequester carbon, improve farmer’s crop yields, cycle nutrients, and more. When soils are polluted and otherwise destroyed, these once dynamic ecosystems lose many of their beneficial properties and while we often think our impact on soil health is limited to actions we take in our daily lives, that’s not the case. Even in death we have the ability to either nourish or harm living soils. 

In Of Dirt and Decomposition: Proposing a Place for the Urban Dead, Katrina Spade, Founder and CEO of Recompose, examines the alarming data related to the funeral-industrial-complex: “The annual tally of buried materials in U.S. cemeteries is more than 30 million board-feet of hardwood and 90,000 tons of steel in coffins, 17,000 tons of steel and copper in vaults, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete in vaults, and more than 750,000 gallons of formaldehyde-laden embalming fluid.” Spade goes on to explain that the combination of air-tight caskets and about three gallons of formaldehyde result in “a soup of putrefied toxic liquid” that “[pollutes] the very soil to which [we] owe [our] lives.” Spade’s company, Recompose, is working to address these and other issues related to death care practices that harm the planet and perpetuate narratives about death that prevent people from understanding the full nature of life on Earth. Death care practices that could benefit from composting. 

At Recompose death care specialists participate in a process known as natural organic reduction, otherwise known as human composting. Phases one through five are detailed on their website as follows: 

PHASE 1

The Cycle Begins

“Natural organic reduction (NOR), also

known as human composting, is powered

by beneficial microbes that occur naturally

on our bodies and in the environment.

 

PHASE 2

The Laying In

“Our staff lay the body in a cradle surrounded

by wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. The

cradle is placed into a Recompose vessel

and covered with more plant material.”

 

PHASE 3

The Vessel

“The body and plant material remain in the

vessel for 30 days. Microbes break everything

down on the molecular level, resulting in

the formation of a nutrient‑dense soil.”

 

PHASE 4

The Soil

“Each body creates one cubic yard of

soil amendment, which is removed from

the vessel and allowed to cure. Once

completed, it can be used to enrich

conservation land, forests, or gardens.”

 

PHASE 5

Life After Death

“The soil created returns the nutrients

from our bodies to the natural

world. It restores forests, sequesters carbon, and nourishes new life.”

 

People who choose to have their body undergo this process have the option to donate their soil to Bells Mountain, a 700-acre nonprofit land trust in Washington. “The land’s caretakers use the soil donated by Recompose to support the continued revitalization of wetlands, riparian habitats, local plants, and vulnerable wildlife species,” and the process itself results in the removal of about .84 to 1.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. Compared to the 28 gallons of gas needed for a single cremation, and the negative environmental impact of traditional burials, NOR is the alternative death care practice gift that keeps on giving. 

NOR is currently only legal in two states but legislators in New York are working to make human composting an option. The proposed bill, A00382/S05535, “provides for the creation, operation, and duties of natural organic reduction facilities as cemetery corporations for the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.” Despite pushback from the New York State Catholic Conference, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin told the Niagara Gazette that NOR is “cleaner and greener” than traditional burial practices and that it’s “in line with many religious practices.” Catholic leaders urge that it is “essential the body of a deceased person be treated with reverence and respect.” Not only does NOR prevent poisons from polluting the bodies of deceased persons, it also allows the organic matter of which bodies are composed to truly return to the Earth and nourish new life. When it comes to “reverence and respect for human remains,” a key consideration for Catholic critics of the proposed bill, a death care practice that honors natural cycles, encourages healing of the planet, and allows bodies to become one with the Earth without spreading toxins could be an environmentally and spiritually friendly option. 

But the point of NOR isn’t just to add another “green” action to one’s to-do list. Too often, the burden of repairing structural and systemic issues is aimed at individuals, many of whom are chronically disenfranchised. Even the death care industry has a history of discrimination and disenfranchisement that calls the idea of death being the great equalizer into the question. In Greening Death, Suzanne Kelly explains that “before the 1930s, Chinese Americans were barred from becoming funeral directors, leaving their experiences of death, as well as their death customs, in the hands of white actors.” She goes on to add that “until 1968 it was legal for cemeteries to refuse to bury bodies on the basis of race.” 

Now, the $15 billion death care industry has the opportunity to center equity, public health, and planetary healing. From educating people about the complex history of the industry to increasing access to ecology-focused burial options, the harmful elements of the funeral-industrial complex can be abolished. One composted human body at a time. Additionally, access to other alternatives to traditional burial can be increased with the help of information campaigns and advocacy for policy and legislation in death care management that offer people more options.

It’s time for society to stop treating cemeteries like landfills. Humans are part of natural cycles of life and death that can help us heal the planet instead of continuing to cause harm. With NOR humans can actually become worm food when they die, as all organic matter ultimately does, instead of source material for groundwater pollution. NOR gives people the option to help heal living soils instead of destroy them. Since we don’t just live on Earth but with Earth, the option to give back in this way allows us to really leave no trace. Only healthy soil. 

Watch: swrm in Conversation with Common Ground Compost Director, Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli about Compost and The City!

Originally posted on swrm’s website and on YouTube! Check out CGC Director, Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli in conversation with Lexi at swrm. They’re talking Compost and the City and you do not want to miss out.

Watch: SWRM and William Klimpert of Common Ground Compost

 

Originally posted on swrm’s website and you can also watch this on YouTube!

Importance of Signage

You may have read the title of this post and thought: “Everyone knows how to recycle, do I really need to put up signs?” Yes you do! It’s very, very important, and it’s the law!. Most people know, or think they know, the basics of recycling, but when they are standing in front of three or more bins with a variety of waste products they are suddenly afflicted with trash-amnesia (not a real thing), or they’re skeptical that the location even recycles. TAKE THE GUESS WORK OUT OF IT. Recycling can be complicated, so confusion is understandable, but it should be 100% clear that your business does in fact recycle, and signs will make it clear! This assurance will motivate employees and customers to take the extra moment to sort their trash accurately, helping eliminate contamination of the recycling stream.

image2Waste stream contamination is one of the biggest problems in the recycling industry, and this problem can cripple the economics of recycling. Sorting mass amounts of recycling later in the process is time-consuming, costly, and detrimental — getting it right at the source is key, and that’s where you come in. Recycle Across America is a nonprofit devoted to solving this exact problem and their simple solution is, you guessed it, labels! (Another word for signage). We agree.

 

In order to get your employees and customers recycling properly, we cannot stress enough the importance of having accurately colored bins and clear signage. The standard in America is to have two blue bins (one for mixed paper and another for glass, cans and plastic), a green bin for compost, and a black bin for landfill. Color coding your receptacles is the first step, but including clear signage is even more important, and clearly labeled bins are the law in NYC, as of August 1st 2017! Ideally, post multiple signs on each bin so they are visible from the front and the top. Successful signage clearly states the type of waste to be disposed of and provides multiple examples of items that belong in each bin, using pictures.

If you work in a food establishment, consider the exact type of waste that your customers and employees will be sorting and address those in your signage. If you only have one sign or label, it’s best to put it on the top of (or on the wall just above) the bin to ensure that folks know what to do when they are standing over it. Always keep your receptacles arranged in the same order too, to avoid confusion.

These simple steps can make a real difference in your ability to recycle effectively. We’ve mentioned this before, but employees prefer to work for companies that display a sense of awareness and responsibility for the world. Similarly, customers like to support socially responsible businesses. So be a responsible recycler! For the sake of your business and the sake of our planet.

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If you want a consultation about responsible recycling in your space, give us a shout! We will gladly perform a waste audit, suggest optimal receptacle placement, provide customized and laminated signage, and train your employees to be recycling experts.

NYC’s Commercial Composting Laws

NYC’s commercial composting laws are in place and being enforced. Never fear, we’ll help you stay up to date and in compliance!

The most recent official notice regarding commercial organics rules was released on January 19, 2016. Link to the official notice here. The rules were put into effect on July 19, 2016 and were made enforceable by law on January 19, 2017. These rules are outlined below for your convenience.

What types of businesses are required by NYC law to separate their organic waste?

  • Any food service establishment in a hotel with 150 rooms or more
  • Any food service venue in an arena or stadium with seating for +15,000 people
  • Any food manufacturer with a floor area of at least 25,000 square feet
  • Any food wholesaler with a floor area of at least 20,000 square feet

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For these businesses, what types of organics must be separated?

  • Food scraps including grains, vegetable and fruit trimmings, bread, animal bones, coffee grinds, etc. (excluding material sold to farmers or rendering companies, or food that is donated)
  • Plant trimmings
  • Food-soiled paper
  • Certified compostable products (more on “Certified Compostable Products” coming soon!)

How to comply and avoid violations:

  • Use labeled containers designated specifically for organics and post signage with clear instructions about separation requirements in areas where customers or staff are disposing of waste. These steps will help reduce cross-contamination among the various waste streams – a major problem in the recycling industry.
  • On that note, always be sure that organics are placed in the appropriate containers and are not mixed with garbage or recyclables.image4
  • Arrange for organic waste to be transported and/or processed separately from garbage and recycling. Post a sign next to your BIC decal that clearly indicates your arrangement, (this will be provided by your hauling company). Here are some options:
  1. The most common solution is to hire a private carter and be sure to comply with that carter’s specifications, (especially for items like Certified Compostable Products).
  2. A far less common option is to register with the NYC Business Integrity Commission to legally self-transport your organic waste. Application for Self Hauler Registration.
  3. The final, and most intensive option, is to process your organic waste on-site using aerobic or anaerobic practices, usually with a machine or technology installed on premises (a food waste grinder is not permitted). IF you go this route, be sure to register HERE within 30 days of installation and maintain records for a minimum of three years. We can help if you are interested in exploring options for onsite processing. It is important to note that some processing technologies cannot accept all organic matter (like large bones, and very fibrous materials like artichokes and pineapple tops). For any organic waste that can’t be processed on site, businesses must either haul away or self haul the material to be in compliance with the law.

Additional Tips:

  • Performing a waste audit is a great way to identify unnecessary waste and find ways to save money! Call the CGC team to help, or you can do it yourself using the EPA’s website to guide your process.
  • Donating food is an excellent way to both give back to your community and reduce your hauling costs. Visit donateNYC for more info on where to donate.
  • If you suspect that your carter or building management is not handling organics properly, file a complaint with the DSNY.

CATEGORY: COMMERCIAL

TAGS: Hauling, Signage, Sustainability, Food Waste, Composting, Commercial Composting, DSNY, Laws, Regulations, Compliance, Waste Audit, Organic Waste

Commercial Composting in NY

Whether you work in a shared office space with a foosball table, a fancy corporate headquarters with a skyline view, a hot new restaurant, a late-night music venue, or a boutique cafe prizing latte art, you and your coworkers produce a variety of “waste”. Dealing with that waste is complicated, no doubt about it, and while environmentally responsible waste management isn’t always the easiest thing, it doesn’t have to be too difficult either. So whether you own a business, or work somewhere that could use a second look at its waste management policies, we’ve outlined some information below to help ease you into an environmentally sustainable operation.

 

image1In 2016 the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) released an Official Notice that outlines new recycling requirements for businesses. These will be enforceable by law starting August 2017. Additionally, as of July 19, 2016, certain large food waste generators in NYC are required by law to separate their organics. Official Notice here. The organics law applies if you are:

  • A food service establishment in a hotel with 150 rooms or more
  • A food service venue in an arena or stadium with seating for +15,000 people
  • A food manufacturer with a floor area of at least 25,000 square feet
  • A food wholesaler with a floor area of at least 20,000 square feet

For more information on the regulations, we’ve written a POST for you!

If none of the above apply to you, but you want to compost your organic waste anyway, we applaud you! Here are some compelling reasons to justify this change to your employees, to convince your boss, or just to brag…

  1. Reduced Odors and Pests: Placing food scraps in sealed, leak-proof buckets and/or toters instead of black trash bags makes it hard for vermin and insects to get in and for odors to get out. If you work in an office with a kitchen, you can store food scraps in the refrigerator or freezer, or even start fermenting your food scraps with a pre-composting process using bokashi (more on that soon). Odors be gone!
  2. Employee Engagement: Green practices increase employee satisfaction and productivity. Naturally, people enjoy feeling that the work they do has a positive impact. By creating an eco-conscious environment, a business is more likely to extract higher quality work and attain greater commitment by their employees. Composting is a great place to start.
  3. Sustainability is Appreciated: In our current climate, awareness is everything and caring about the earth is cool. Consumers notice eco-friendly efforts and want to support businesses that integrate sustainability into their bottom line. If two different cafes offered the same exact coffee, but one served in compostable cups, and the other in survive-the-apocalypse-foam cups, which would you choose for your morning joe? Exactly.
  4. Cost Savings: Organics are one of the heaviest components of waste. A post-composting analysis of your waste bill will likely show cost savings that result from diverting heavy food scraps from landfills. This is not a guarantee, but the commercial composting landscape in and around NYC is rapidly evolving, and changes that incentivise composting in the future are increasingly likely.
  5. Healthier Planet: Throwing organic materials into the garbage is harmful to the environment. Organic material decomposing in landfills releases methane, a gas 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. By separating organic waste, your business will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and simultaneously aid in the creation of nutrient-rich fertilizers and/or renewable energy.

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Now armed with five reasons to compost, how do you actually go about putting your fantastic idea into action? The easiest thing to do would be to call or email your friends at Common Ground Compost so we can evaluate your business and help you implement a new system that fits seamlessly with your current operation. But if you’re a DIY’er (much respect), here are some steps you can take…

 

 

FIRST: How are you going to dispose of your organic waste?

a.) Hire a private hauler for multiple waste streams, including food waste. It’s

a good idea to get multiple quotes to find the best price. HERE is a list of vendors as of 2015 to get you started. We recommend asking about the programs a potential hauler provides and confirming they work with your type of business.

b.) Hire a micro-hauler (for organic waste only). The following organizations work in NYC and, for a small fee, will pick up your organics and process them locally.

c.) Self-transport. Most NYC businesses will not elect to self-transport organic waste to a processing facility, but if you do, you must register with the NYC Business Integrity

Commission.

d.) Process on site. For most NYC businesses, processing organic waste on site

will not be possible. However if you are able and choose to do so, you must register

with the DSNY within 30 days of installing on-site processing equipment – check out our post on commercial compost regulations, or contact us to discuss!

SECOND: Depending on who will be processing your organic waste, make sure you know the rules for what can and cannot be composted. This can vary greatly depending on whether your hauler uses an aerobic or anaerobic process, or whether they are a massive facility or a local organization. This is especially true when it comes to dairy and meat products. We can help by contacting your hauling company and/or speaking directly to the compost facility.

THIRD: Educate your employees or fellow co-workers. Find out who on staff is particularly excited to be composting and see if they are interested in managing the process. Make sure your new waste management system is clear enough for a baby to understand. Color coded bins and signs can be really helpful here. We love signage.

FOURTH: Shout it out, loud and proud! Let all customers and visitors know how to dispose of their waste effectively. Make it known that you’re a business that cares about the environment. Post it on your website! Put a sign in the window. No one will chide you for gloating about your waste stream mastery, quite the contrary.

AND IF THAT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF WORK…

What with all the other responsibilities you have at your job… call us! That’s why we’re here. We’ll come to your place of business (our first site visit is complimentary), and we can perform a waste audit. Next, we’ll contact your existing haulers to make sure you’re getting the best deal on all of your waste streams. If you’re not, we’ll help you get the best bang for your buck. During that initial site visit, we will walk through your business to understand your current layout, and can work with you to determine a seamless waste strategy, educate your employees, set up the necessary infrastructure, and be available to you for any hiccups or questions that arise while you’re adapting. We even provide high fives, free of charge! We love high-fives almost as much as we love composting.

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