Composting in an office environment might sound taboo to some, but it provides a valuable opportunity to save costs, bring co-workers together for a common purpose, and cultivate resource-rich materials. The many benefits compost offers such as the satisfaction from cultivating it, and seemingly magical properties has earned compost the nick name “Black Gold”.
The accumulation of waste produced over the years has been growing to the extent that options to store trash in landfills and transport it from city centers are becoming very limited and extremely expensive. In 2010, over the course of just one year, Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash. Only 30% of this was recycled or composted, but there is potential for about 95% to be recycled or composted.
Jules Miller, a manager at Verdantix which is an independent analyst firm focusing on energy, environment, and sustainability is working to close this gap between the quantity of trash brought to landfills and the quantity that is composted and recycled. She shared with the A Clean Future network some of her experiences and lessons learned from working with New York City-based companies like Salesforce.com and Tiffany & Co. to implement office-wide composting programs.
So, what is composting and why is it worth doing in the office?
Composting is defined as the end result of controlled decomposition of organic matter, used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients. It is used in landscaping, agriculture and gardening as a soil conditioner and fertilizer to improve the soil and provide nutrients without harmful chemicals.
Benefits of composting can be realized from environmental, financial and policy perspectives. Composted soil is high quality, with more nutrients and beneficial microorganisms than regular soil. It suppresses plant diseases and pests, reduces or eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, and promotes higher crop yields. Also, it remediates soils contaminated by hazardous waste and captures and destroys 99.6% of VOCs. It removes solids, oil, grease, and heavy metals from storm-water runoff, avoids methane production and leachate formation in landfills. From a financial perspective, composting saves money by reducing waste disposal, the size or frequency of trash pickups. Composting contributes to an organization’s sustainability goals, and in some cases, fulfills municipal legal requirements. San Francisco has made composting a legal requirement and Seattle, New York City, and others may soon follow suit.
Jules noted that the most expensive part of composting tends to be contamination, where some waste is not discarded in appropriate bins. If the quality of the trash is not very good, the waste hauler is responsible for sifting through it, and they charge a fee for doing so. However, once people get more comfortable with composting on their own, the costs associated with sifting improves.
Through her efforts in training and educating employees at Salesforce.com, the office experienced a 50% improvement in the quality of the trash. Salesforce.com took an additional step to help educate their employees and made it fun. A few volunteers came together and developed a video to help their fellow office-mates to learn about composting. The actors in the video were seen by their co-workers as experts on composting and took it upon themselves to educate others.
From this experience, Jules learned that adding a fun factor into the mix can go a long way. People began to open up, and even those who wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in these issues asked questions and were involved in making the program a success.
Jules also recommended consulting with janitors and collection company managers for the decisionmaking process so that they are also champions of implementing these programs. Some might be able to collect and summarize data (i.e. trash, in pounds) to help measure progress of the composting program.
Other tips Jules shared to the group included keeping the momentum going by setting formal goals. This is a powerful approach because resources are dedicated to initiatives that will achieve these goals.
There are many options and methods to consider when composting, so it is beneficial to consult with an expert like Jules, attend workshops, and learn as much as possible. Once the education happens, it is easy to implement a composting program on your own. For more questions, contact Jules at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Jules Miller:
Jules Miller has led internal sustainability initiatives, including setting up composting programs at Ernst & Young, Salesforce,com, and Tiffany & Co. Jules is a certified master composter, a LEED AP, and a certified GRI sustainability reporter. She is a manager at Verdantix, an independent analyst firm focusing on energy, environment, and sustainability. Jules earned her BA from UCLA and her MSc from the London School of Economics and Political Science.