Charleston County, S.C. Program Helps Businesses Compost

Every week, trucks haul 50 tons of food and other organic waste from Charleston County, S.C. schools, grocery stores, hospitals and restaurants.

Instead of languishing with broken furniture and household trash in the Bees Ferry Landfill, the organic waste is brought to the West Ashley site's composting facility, where it's destined to become the only compost in the state approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in organic farming.

About 8,000 tons of commercial waste has been diverted from landfills since 2011 through Charleston County's Commercial Food Waste Composting Program. After a 2010 waste composition study, the county learned that 37 percent of commercial waste was compostable.

Many of the businesses and organizations that work with the program are grocery stores, colleges and hospitals, according to Wayne Koeckeritz, owner of Food Waste Disposal, which collects the waste and brings it to the composting facility. During "full speed" times -- during the school year -- Koeckeritz's business collects from about 80 businesses in Charleston County. In the summer, the largest producer of waste tends to be grocery stores, due to the popularity of fresh-cut fruit. There's a lot of waste from watermelon and pineapple rinds, Koeckeritz said.

Once the waste arrives at the plant, it takes 60 days to turn into compost. Then, it's sold for $2 per 1.5 cubic foot bag at the Bees Ferry Compost Facility and the Charleston County Recycling center on Romney Street. The county sells about 12,000 tons of compost each year, according to Harvey Gibson, compost superintendent.

Without the services provided by the county and the company it would be "very, very difficult" to sustainably dispose of all of Verde's compostable material, said Jennifer Ferrebee, who owns the restaurant with her husband. Between Verde's locations on King Street and in Mount Pleasant, about 80 percent of its waste is compostable.

"It could become a business practice that was no longer sustainable for us," Ferrebee said. "We'd be in the business of hauling trash to the compost plant instead of in the business of restaurants."

For every 1,000 pounds of compost Ferrebee's restaurant creates, she gets 40 pounds back. She donates it to local non-profit organizations and organic gardens like the Green Heart Project, which integrates organic gardening into local schools.

"We really get to see it go full circle," Ferrebee said.

While the concept of composting is not new, it has grown in popularity as the sustainability movement has. The county's program caters to the growing number of people and businesses who want to compost or purchase compost while also reducing the amount of waste that stays in landfills. In turn, that reduces the amount of methane produced by decaying organic matter in the landfill, Koeckeritz said.

"In years past, it would have been buried in a landfill," Gibson said. "Now, we're turning trash into treasure. We like to call it black gold."

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