On November 12-13, I had the pleasure of attending the Southeast Food Waste Reduction conference, presented by the Carolina Recycling Association along with government and non-profit partners. The presenters and exhibitors showcased a compelling array of activities, ranging from industry initiatives in food donation, organics and compostable packaging collection and processing, and understanding the myriad of triple bottom line benefits associated with waste diversion, including compost (the noun) and composting (the verb).

I presented on the SPC’s new project, “Scaling Up Composting in the Charlotte Area,” for which we recently received a grant from US EPA Region IV and matching funds from Mecklenburg County in North Carolina. The project will be co-led by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s IDEAS Center—Infrastructure, Design, Environment & Sustainability Center. Additional partners include Elemental Impact, with their partner the National Restaurant Association, and Earth Farms composting. Mecklenburg County’s recently conducted a food waste study showing major food waste generators, and potential collection and transport options, which our work through this project will help to scale up.

You may be wondering, how is packaging a part of the food waste issue? Packaging often protects the product and enhances shelf life, resulting in “less waste in the first place.” Additionally, certified compostable foodservice packaging such as plates, cups, and utensils enable the consumer to easily separate the compostables into one bin.

There are now over 90 programs across the country where residents can place compostables into a curbside bin, and this number is growing. This conference reminded me just how important the expansion of this service is to moving us towards true sustainable materials management—reducing waste and finding a valuable product as a result.

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