What is composting?
Before you run off to create a compost bin, it’s useful for you to understand what composting is and why it’s beneficial. This not only helps you understand the benefits of starting a compost pile but also allows you to more easily communicate to your staff and customers why you’re doing it.
Composting describes a natural process wherein organic waste is decomposed using a mixture of oxygen, moisture, nitrogen, and carbon. This turns the waste into a dark, nutrient-rich material known as compost.
Compost is used by gardeners, farmers and landscapers to enrich the soil for planting new crops and plants. It also reduces the need for chemical fertilisers, which aren’t as good for plants and can cause issues like soil acidification.
How does composting improve your sustainability?
The process of composting prevents organic food waste from going to landfills.
As we discussed in our article on 10 ways to reduce food waste in your kitchen, food waste represents a significant environmental and economic issue worldwide. When you combine composting with other food waste reduction strategies, you’re showing your customers that you’re committed to sustainability.
Reducing food waste is something everyone in the foodservice industry needs to tackle together. Back in 2015, Nestlé pledged to reduce food waste by collaborating with industry peers, improving our own operations, and educating consumers and businesses on this complex issue. Since then, we’ve achieved some great results, like ensuring that 95% of sites send zero waste for disposal, and implementing a range of initiatives to help farmers in countries like Kenya, Mexico and Nigeria harvest crops more sustainably.
Learn more about our commitment to reduce food loss and waste.
What food scraps and other waste can you compost?
For composting to be successful, it requires an equal mix of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials.
Carbon-rich composting materials (also called brown materials) include wood chips, leaves, twigs and straw. Nitrogen-rich composting materials (also called green materials) include eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, nutshells, tea bags, grass clippings and fruit and vegetable waste.
As a foodservice operator, you likely have many compostable kitchen scraps (like eggshells, fruits and vegetables, and coffee grounds) in abundance. Even leftover cardboard packaging and old paper napkins and towels (that haven’t been contaminated with non-organics) can be used in your compost bin.
What you should not compost: Dairy products, meats, fish, bones, coal and charcoal ashes, oils, fats, lards and greases.
For a detailed list of what you can and can’t compost, check out this page on composting and worm farming from the Inner West Council.
How to start composting in your café or restaurant
Now that you know why you should start composting, keep reading to see how you can make it happen in your café or restaurant. Don’t skip any of these steps, as it’s essential that you follow the proper composting process to ensure your food scraps and other pieces of waste can decompose efficiently.
- Choose a dry, shady spot near a source of water to place your compost bin. Your compost pile should also be safe and easy for your employees to access.
- Add soil to the compost bin. The soil will introduce bacteria which speeds up the composting process.
- Add a layer of brown materials. Large pieces should be shredded or cut up so they can more easily decay.
- Add your green materials. Again, ensure that big pieces are cut down so they can decay more quickly.
- Keep adding layers of soil, green, and brown waste until you run out of materials.
- Keep the compost pile moist by watering it occasionally (it should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge).
- Turn and mix the compost at least once a week so that enough oxygen passes through it.
- Continue the process until the compost achieves a dark, rich, and crumbly texture (getting your finished compost could take up to a couple of months or even a year, depending on your materials).
How to make composting work in your foodservice business
Knowing how to compost and making it a reality in your café or restaurant are two different things. With so many demands on you and your staff, it can be challenging to try and squeeze in an entirely new process.
There’s no shame in starting small - after all, some composting is better than none. Experiment with the process and make sure your team is doing it correctly before you start making it a huge deal.
Once you get your staff into a composting mindset, you’ll be able to easily expand your compost pile to include as much of your waste as possible. Make it easy for your staff to know what they can and can’t compost by having different coloured bins around the kitchen with clear labelling.
Also, make compost training part of your onboarding training for new employees so they can get up to speed. Don’t forget to let your customers know you’re doing it, so they don’t feel guilty about leaving fruit and vegetable scraps on their plate.
What if you don’t have space to compost?
If space is at a premium in your café or restaurant, setting up a compost bin might be impractical. However, you can still ensure your organic materials get composted by partnering with a local composter who will gladly take your waste to add to their compost pile.
Organisations like Compost Connect help businesses find composting services near them so that their waste can be put to good use. Compost Connect will even give you special composting bins for your business to fill up, making composting your waste as easy as filling up the bins and waiting for collection. They can even help your business find compostable packaging for your food and beverage items, reducing your waste even further!
What to do with your compost
Once you’ve successfully cultivated a pile of nutrient-rich compost, you might be wondering what you should do with it. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to put your compost to good use:
- Use it in your own garden or offer it to staff.
- Offer it for free to local gardeners and landscapers who can use it to support healthy plant growth.
- Donate the compost to a local school, community garden, or organic farm.
- Organise to have your compost collected by services like Compost Connect who will make sure it gets utilised in the organic waste industry.
If you want to improve your sustainability as a foodservice operator, composting is something very worthwhile to do. Whether you choose to make compost in-house or organise your kitchen waste for collection by a third party, you’ll be doing the world some good and enjoying the gratitude of sustainability-conscious customers at the same time.
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