After 3 very interesting months of large-scale food waste vermicomposting, I decided to pull the plug on the project (see Restaurant Food Waste Vermicomposting to learn more about said ‘project’). I have far less time this fall for collecting and handling large amounts of wastes, and my capacity to process all the wastes in the systems I’ve set up (here and on my dad’s property) seemed to be dwindling by the day. With cold, wet weather of fall and even harsher conditions of winter on the way, it’s probably better that I stopped now anyway.
Naturally, I can’t help but feel guilty about my inability to continue, since the restaurant will once again be sending all their food waste to the landfill. They also might not be nearly as open to the idea of letting people take their wastes from now on, thinking that it will end up being more hassle than it’s worth. I actually asked if I could switch to only taking coffee grounds/filters and they decided it wasn’t worth the bother. The irony of their new perspective is that it was coffee grounds and egg carton cardboard that I had originally approached them about (and was met with enthusiasm). Oh well – lesson learned.
Looking back, I am definitely impressed with what’s been accomplished – all that ‘blood, sweat and tears’ certainly wasn’t a total waste. I was able to divert literally tons of food waste that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill, and was able to put it to very good use. The materials have served as a massive supply of organic fertilizer (not as in certifiable, but in the literal sense of the term ‘organic’) for my gardens and major food source for a lot of composting worms! Even now with the supply cut off, the plants and the worms will continue to benefit from the materials for quite some time.
The project has also certainly provided me with an excellent opportunity to test out various composting methods. My most exciting discovery of course has been the value of vermicomposting trenches as all-natural fertilization and watering system.
Continuing on the positive side, I can’t tell you how nice it is now not having to constantly think about going to make waste pick-ups. To their credit, the owner and manager of the restaurant were quite accommodating towards the end when I expressed some concern about the pick-up schedule (up until then I had been making pick-ups 6 days a week), agreeing to simply put the bins outside so I could pick them up whenever I had time, rather than during a specific time window at the end of each day.
While I no longer have a steady supply of wastes to feed my worms, the quantity added to my systems up until now should keep the worms going for a while (as mentioned), and I have little doubt I’ll be able to secure plenty of waste from other sources.
For those of you thinking about starting a similar project with a local restaurant, here are some recommendations:
1) Start small – Tame your excitement (and the potential excitement of the restaurant owner) and start by taking small to moderate amounts of waste for a number of weeks or months to make sure you don’t end up biting off more than you can chew.
2) If taking decent quantities of waste on a regular schedule, be sure to fully plan out the project and discuss possible contingency plans with the restaurant staff – the last thing they want to deal with is a large quantity of rotting organic waste that you were supposed to take off their hands.
3) Make sure you have the time, equipment, and space to do the job properly.
4) Keep the channels of communication open at all times – don’t be afraid to let the restaurant know that some particular aspect of the project is not working smoothly for you. This sort of arrangement needs to be ‘sustainable’ from more than just an environmental standpoint.
5) Give lots of notice for any major changes or if you need to stop taking waste. This is especially important when dealing with larger operations (and more food waste) – remember, there is a full staff of people that needed to be notified and educated about this in order to get things off the ground in the first place, so don’t just pull the plug and leave them to deal with the resulting headaches on their end.
6) Try to get the restaurant staff as involved and excited about the project as possible – this way it becomes more of a team effort, and there is a greater chance that some workable solution can be found any time problems arise. If all the burden rests on your shoulders it won’t be nearly as enjoyable, and you likely just end up really stressed out.
Obviously most of these aren’t really an issue if you are only picking up some waste materials occasionally – they are more geared towards project involving a more regular pick-up schedule, and when more wastes are being taken.
In case you are wondering, these are NOT all things I failed at with my project (haha) – just things that have come to mind during the process. I certainly fell short in some ways, but all in all I think I handled everything reasonably well.
Bottomline, it was a very cool experience and I’m really glad I did it. I’d like to start something like this again, but would likely wait until I had a truck and a larger, rural property.