Composting Catching on in Aspen Restaurants, Homes

Dec 8, 2014

The SCRAPS program is a joint effort by the City of Aspen and Pitkin County. It officially launched in November.

The landfill in Pitkin County is nearing the end of its life and one new program may keep it open longer. Organizers of what’s called the SCRAPS program are working with individuals and restaurants to compost food waste. It’s estimated 30 percent of the County’s compacted trash stream is food waste that could be composted. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen has more.

The kitchen inside Aspen’s St. Regis hotel is busy. It supplies food to several in-house restaurants, a banquet space, hotel guests and its staff. Recently, more than a ton of food waste collected over three days was composted.

"The impact is going to be astronomical," says Executive Sous Chef Greg Ische of joining the SCRAPS program.

He says that waste would have gone to the landfill before the hotel became part of the program in September. He estimates, before long, the hotel will divert hundreds of thousands of pounds food waste.

"We make everything from scratch and that entails a lot of byproducts, especially peelings of fresh fruit and vegetables, and we make our own stock so there are bones that are involved in it. It’s extremely heavy. And, that not going into the landfill will be a huge impact for this area."

The St. Regis is one of a growing number of businesses signing onto SCRAPS. The program, run by the City of Aspen and Pitkin County, distributes free composting bins. Liz O’Connell is the City’s Senior Environmental Health Specialist.

A graphic on the county's website shows the kinds of food scraps that can be composted.

"We’ve had pretty good success. We’ve given out in the neighborhood of 200 home compost collection buckets, we’ve got a number of HOA’s that are participating, but where we’re lagging behind in diverting a significant amount of material from the landfill, is getting restaurants on board," she says.

Participation in the program is somewhat urgent. The landfill that serves Pitkin County residents is almost used up. And, finding land for a replacement is nearly impossible. Jack Johnson works for the landfill and says the SCRAPS program could slow the dump’s demise.

"We’re getting to the point where if we really want to see significant gains of extension into time of the life of the landfill, then we’re going to have to be more innovative about what we keep out, from being buried. We’re at the point where food waste is the last of the low hanging fruit," he says.

Extending the life the landfill is just one goal. Keeping food waste from being buried also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

"Food waste and landfills in general are probably one of the largest contributors of methane gas in our country," says Shaun McGrath.

He's the Denver-area administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is also working to reduce the amount of food waste deposited in landfills.

Their program, called the “Food Recovery Challenge,” is similar to SCRAPS. It’s encouraging restaurants to shop smarter, compost and donate leftover food and it’s effective. Last year more than 375,000 tons were diverted from landfills.

"We’re already starting to see some improvement. We’re in the beginning of this effort, but we’re already starting to see the numbers change a little bit," McGrath says.

In the busy St. Regis Aspen kitchen, Executive Sous Chef Greg Ische says composting their food scraps is a matter of caring about food and the environment.

"We pride ourselves on putting the best product on the plate and the question is, how do we continue that over years and decades, and we have to do that by providing the soil the right nutrients to grow the right product that we want to have to put on our plate."

The food scraps end up in a compost pile at the landfill where they’re combined with wood chips, leaves and grass and eventually bagged and sold to gardeners. Residents can drop off compost for free at the landfill or pay to have it picked up.