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Episode 50 Transcript

CLARICE:  Hello.  Good afternoon, everybody.  Well, afternoon that we’re recording.  My name is Clarice.  I am recording sans Marisa today.  These are one of those very rare and few moments when I get full control of the mic.  I get to go rogue.  And in the spirit of going rogue, I brought on a special guest.  We have Leo Pollock joining us on this week’s episode of Environmentally Speaking.  Hello.  

LEO:  Hello.  

CLARICE:  Thank you for coming on for today’s episode.  So we are focusing on a listener question of food waste which is a gigantic topic as we were just prerecording chatting about.  So in the spirit of talking about food waste and everything that’s involved, tell us how you connect to that.  

LEO:  Yes.  Well, Clarice, appreciate the opportunity to talk food waste, something near and dear to my heart and something that it’s exciting to see, I think, more people are aware of and excited to kind of learn more about.  So, again, Leo Pollock.  So I kind of came into this actually from an interest in agriculture.  So I was doing urban agriculture work kind of and education so kind of teaching people how to grow food in the city.  I worked for a great organization and providence called the Southside Community Land Trust for years.  

And part of it was sort of seeing kind of two separate issues.  One was in thinking about urban agriculture there was a need for more healthy soil both in restoring urban soils and dealing with contamination issues.  And then it was also just a recognition that there was all this food waste that didn’t seem like it was being addressed and most of it was getting mixed with trash and ending up in the landfill.  I didn’t at that point kind of understand the environmental problems that that can create, but seeing that as sort of an opportunity about ten years ago started this business called The Compost Plant with a partner Matt Harris who had a background in sort of rethinking waste streams, as well. 

He had started a business called Newport Biodiesel thinking about used vegetable oil as a fuel that could be turned into biodiesel.  So we kind of put our heads together and thought, wow, there’s really kind of an opportunity here to address this food waste problem and really try to create at that point what we thought was compost potting soils that could serve, you know, a growing urban, suburban gardening, farming market.   

[0:02:59] CLARICE:  That already opens up a thousand questions for me.  I’m so excited already.  So what would you define – let’s start at the way basics, building block one.  What do you define as food waste?  Are we talking leftovers, stuff we just never got to in our produce bin?  

LEO:  Great question.  So kind of starting with that term, and I think, again, it’s unfortunate.  So I think the first thing to understand is really there’s a lot of complexity in that.  You know, I think the first place to start is we need to rethink how we think about waste.  So, you know, food, a number of different forms.  Sometimes, you know, if we go into kind of, you know, the normal house, right, so there’s – you know, there’s both food waste in terms of when we’re preparing food, you know, we’re peeling things.  There are pits in fruit.  

You know, there’s kind of the inedible stuff that is, you know, not wasteful, but obviously there’s nutrients and there’s vitamins and minerals in those things that if they’re going in the trash are sort of tossed, you know, buried in a landfill, never recovered.  So there’s kind of that piece.  There’s also then the, you know, things we leave in the back of our fridge that start to mold or start to rot that, from a food safety standpoint, we’re not going to eat, we’re not going to give to anyone.  

CLARICE:  I might be guilty of that once or twice.  

LEO:  Absolutely.  So that’s another component, so kind of food that’s spoiled that, again, would normally — you know, in most, I would say, American households you find that old leftover container.  You dump it in the trash.  It feels a little bit of guilt of like, oh, I forgot about this.  So there’s kind of that.  And then, you know, when you get into kind of the commercial or, you know, when we think about supermarkets, it’s those same things just at a much larger scale.  

So, you know, the produce aisle in a supermarket, you know, they’re pulling anything out that has spots or that is starting to rot, you know, in part because produce needs to look good, but also in part just if you have a whole bunch of apples together and you start leaving ones that are bruised you’re going to start to get more produce spoiling.  So it’s kind of they have to pick through.  So those things in general traditionally have been kind of mixed with our trash and end up in the landfill.  

And the challenge of that around food waste is, as you know, as food waste starts to break down not only does it start to smell but especially if it’s in a place where it’s buried like a landfill it’s actually producing methane gas which is a greenhouse gas that’s significantly more problematic that carbon dioxide.  So we hear a lot about CO2 carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas that we want to address and methane is another one that we need to think about and that’s really where it ties back to food waste.  

[0:06:17] CLARICE:  I think I’m still stuck on the idea of that old expression one bad apple spoils the bunch.  One bad apple can really just ruin all of its neighbors?  

LEO:  It is true.  

CLARICE:  What?  

LEO:  I’m not a food scientist, but you get kind of – I mean, if you think about it the same reason that, you know, we hopefully want to eat nutritious food is, you know, it’s giving us the energy, the vitamins and minerals kind of we need for every day.  So the downside is there are a lot of bacteria that also, you know, are happy to feed on those same things.  So if food isn’t stored properly or if food isn’t kept at the right temperature, it can spoil.  And you definitely have the problem of once something is kind of on or in one thing and it starts to rot, that’s just going to spread across.  

CLARICE:  It’s going to spread.  Guys, that expression actually – it’s got some solid roots and I might be the last person to think of that.  So we’ve got all of this food waste.  We have this problem of – and now thinking on a larger scale – groups and sort of that display of produce going bad at a supermarket and things like that.  Tell me how compost either helps with methane reduction, how it handles it.  What’s the benefit of it?  

LEO:  Yeah.  So and I think this is good, so I’m going to talk in general kind of from thinking about it like in the commercial industrial space.  That’s really where we work.  So the residential side is similar but has different challenges or different logistics.  But kind of to get to your question, so we have this problem of these volumes are generated in all these places.  So restaurants every day are prepping food.  Restaurants every day are clearing plates that people didn’t finish.  Supermarkets are clearing their produce.  You know, if there’s a larger facility that’s preparing food for a supermarket so, you know, tomato sauce or something they’re going to generate, you know, a lot of food waste in that preparation, as well.  So there are all these different kinds of facilities.  

So, you know, the challenge of how we address it is kind of – there’s a couple different components.  So the first is how do we actually set up a system where it’s separated from trash and picked up.  So there’s kind of the like logistics around how do you work with different size customers.  You know, supermarket very different than a small restaurant.  A small restaurant very different than a large meat processing facility.  So there are those logistics and then the big question is where does it go.  So if it’s not going to the landfill, where can it go that it can be turned into something or – or used in a way that’s better than a landfill and ideally doesn’t produce methane and contribute to global warming.  

So there’s kind of two avenues that seem to be emerging and, you know, have historically been kind of the way to do that.  So the first is, as you mentioned, composting.  So composting, you know, can happen at a household, can happen at a much larger scale on a farm or at an industrial scale facility.  Pretty basic concept in terms of it’s been around for a long time, you know, mostly as a farm-based practice.  So the basic idea of compost is, you know, a recipe similar to baking.  You know, food waste is high in nitro, has a lot of water and liquid.  So that then gets mixed with things that are high in carbon so things like dry leaves or wood chips or sort of brush from landscapers, things like that so carbon high materials that tend to be drier.  

And so you’re trying to get to that sweet spot of mixing nitrogen and carbon and mixing kind of wet and dry to get this kind of optimal carbon to nitrogen ratio and moisture.  And then the beautiful thing is the bacteria that naturally live on food waste and that natural live in leaves and straw and those kinds of things are basically then – you’ve given them kind of the optimal parameters and they’re going to start to basically digest that down and break all that food waste that could smell bad, produce methane.  

It’s going to basically stabilize it as a soil amendment so as something that smells, has no odor in the end.  It kind of smells like a forest floor, you know, kind of an earthy mushroomy smell and that then is a great addition to farms, gardens.  It’s going to lock nutrients up in a way that is going to make them available to plants over a long term and that, again, kind of stabilizes that food waste, stops it from going anaerobic and producing methane.  And it’s going to then stabilize it in a form, you know, of sort of a soil amendment.  I’m going to use some terms in here that are a little nerdy, wonky in the industry, so I apologize for that.  And feel free to ask — 

[0:12:08] CLARICE:  I think this might be the place to be a full nerd.  

LEO:  I’ll embrace it.  

CLARICE:  So that first route of composting actually prevents there being a huge amount of methane leftover, so in that case we’re not even dealing with that biproduct.  You’ve kind of cut it off at the head.  

LEO:  Exactly.  

CLARICE:  So tell me about the commercial route.  Tell me a little bit more.  We’ve left my backyard.  We’re now – I don’t know.  I’m like an uneaten French fry at a restaurant.  Where do I go?  What happens?  

LEO:  Yeah.  So, you know, same process.  And so compost is kind of one direction that that can go.  The other is – and this was something when we started the business I was less familiar with, but the term in industry is called anaerobic digesters.  A lot of times they’re called AD facilities.  And those are a different – so it’s sort of the opposite approach.  They also incorporate food waste.  

The idea here is it’s sort of the same process that would be naturally happening in a landfill so producing methane gas but in a controlled environment where that methane is captured fully, contained, and then that methane can then be used as either – it can be burned for electricity, so it’s sort of a renewable energy route, or it can be kind of compressed and cleaned into a gas that can run larger vehicles.  So you see some municipal bus fleets or service fleets.  Like waste management runs a lot of their trucks on natural gas.  So as an alternative to diesel fuel, things like that.  So, you know, it’s sort of either food waste turned into compost as a soil or it’s food waste turned into renewable energy and it in some way is then integrated into the energy grid.  

CLARICE:  You said that so casually.  That’s such an exciting idea.  You can take food waste and capture all of that methane and power a bus.  

LEO:  And I would say that’s one of the areas that, you know, is still really from an infrastructure so the actual facilities in the U.S.  There aren’t that many here.  There’s a lot more in Europe, but it’s something that I think we’ll see and you may be hearing more and more about is that I think will be part of when we talk about sort of what is renewable energy.  A lot of people immediately think, oh, you know, in Rhode Island we have offshore wind.  We have a lot of solar.  You know, in other parts of northern New England you have hydropower.  So those are kind of the ones that we tend to be familiar with, but anaerobic digesters are going to be part of that picture and they’re not something that we’re finding a lot of people know anything about right now.  

But it’s kind of an amazing concept is in either case food is energy, so it’s either ending up as a stored energy that’s then available to plants in the form of compost or it’s literally producing energy in the form of gas.  In one case in a landfill, that gas is just going into the atmosphere and it’s creating a lot of problems.  If it’s contained and it’s intentional and the facility is operating well, that’s producing a gas that can replace, you know, fracking gas or replacing electricity that would come from coal or other sources.  You know, that’s seen as a renewable energy that’s replacing traditional fossil fuels in that case.  

[0:16:15] CLARICE:  That is such a cool concept.  Oh, I love this idea.  And once you’ve sort of – it’s gone through, I guess, maybe digestion or whatever that breakdown is, what’s left?  You’ve pulled the methane out.  Is it a pile of dust?  

LEO:  Great question.  And this, I think, is where, you know, the initial excitement starts to get a little more complicated on both sides.  So, you know, and I can talk personally.  So, you know, ten years ago when we started The Compost Plant, my thought was, you know, if we could figure out a way to work with a lot of different commercial customers and get a lot of that food waste out of the landfill it could be composted.  We’d reduce that amount of methane.  There would then be more compost available for gardens and farms and that would be a solution.  

One of the challenges of that is then, you know, Rhode Island, very small state, very densely populated state, you know, challenges around, well, where do you site compost facilities.  They need a lot of acreage.  They need a lot of equipment.  You know, you have a challenge of they can’t be necessarily near watersheds because of potential runoff, so, you know, there are a lot of kind of challenges in implementing that.  I would say with anaerobic digesters, you know, one of the challenges is – you’re right – what happens after that methane gas is produced, the energy is captured.  So you end up with a couple.  You end up with sort of what they call in the industry kind of a slurry.  So it’s sort of a – it looks like – 

CLARICE:  Oh, Leo, that’s a word.   

LEO:  — maybe wet soil, kind of a brown slurry.  So that then either has to be used in some way or processed further into something that then is stable again.  So some slurry from digesters is then composted.  The problem then is you’re starting with kind of a lower level of nutrition because a lot of the energy from it has gone into the gas production.  Some places are experimenting with kind of drying that out and turning it into, you know, like almost like a fertilizer pellet so something that would then turn it into, again, having a use.  But that is one of the challenges.  There’s no like, this is the tried-and-true answer.  

We’ve seen some digesters that are now siting on dairy farms.  And one of the benefits of that is if they have – sorry.  So we’re finding some anaerobic digesters are sited on dairy farms.  One of the benefits of that is that slurry can then be applied to fields.  You know, if they’re growing corn for cattle feed it can be used as basically a directly land-applied fertilizer that is going to then be available, you know, as a fertilizer replacement for plants, as well.  So that’s one where it seems like based on where the facility is being located it has a direct land use application there that has some benefit.  

And then the kind of dry material that they would screen out can be used for bedding for cows and things like that.  So there are challenges of it.  There’s some solutions coming up.  But I think this is the – the learning lesson I’ve had is, you know, there’s no perfect answer for this.  You know, there are benefits on one side.  There are challenges.  Some of it, I think, depends on kind of regionally what’s available.  So in places where there’s a huge amount of land, you know, composting may be a better solution.  The challenge then is similar to the digester is if you produce a lot of compost where is that compost going.  It’s a heavy material.  It’s like moving soil.  So it has to be transported to a place where it can be used.  If you then transport it, you’re creating more emissions in terms of moving stuff with large trucks, so it starts to get messy really fast.  

[0:20:55] CLARICE:  And you had said this is one of the lessons.  Would you be able to share sort of a surprising lesson that you’ve learned in the kind of birth and development of the compost plan?  

LEO:  Yeah.  I mean, I think the – and I have a couple numbers that I just made a note of.  But I think the real kind of big revelation to me in – you know, I did not grow up in the waste industry.  It’s a newer area to me and I find it fascinating because it’s generally sort of – the idea in American culture is it’s invisible.  That was always surprising to me that, you know, we put out our trash.  It’s picked up, you know, at early morning or when people are at work and then we come home and the bins are empty or things get emptied and we never see where they go and we never hear anything back.  

And so it’s sort of like we produce waste and it disappears and that I find really fascinating from just — in some ways the waste industry is so efficient and, you know, tuned into the logistics of it.  On the other hand I think we pay a price in terms of when we don’t have awareness of what happens to things we tend to lose what the impacts or we tend to not have any feedback about how to change behaviors that might impact that.  And I think the biggest challenge of that is and the realization that the scale of what we’re talking about is just stunning.  

So, you know, just looking at Rhode Island which I – Rhode Island to me is always interesting because, you know, we are the smallest state, but I think it’s a fascinating example because it gives kind of a scale that things can be a little easier to understand.  And then think about, you know, a state like New York or California as X numbers of Rhode Island, you know, to kind of extrapolate from that to think about it like, whoa, that’s different when you’re in a state with 12 million people.  But just to give an idea, I mean, we’re talking about the central landfill in Rhode Island.  

Rhode Island Resource Recovery did a kind of waste analysis study I think in 2018 and they saw that, you know, just the amount of food waste that was getting mixed in with trash, you know, was about 100,000 tons – one ton being 2,000 pounds – a year just from the residential sector.  So that’s, you know, the municipalities that are picking up trash and bringing it to the one landfill.  And this is in a state with a million people.  We’re talking about, you know, 100,000 tons times 2,000 pounds a year.  Commercially it’s a little lower but, you know, on a similar scale and that just feels like – 

[0:24:18] CLARICE:  Just to go back, you said over 100,000 tons?  

LEO:  They said about 90,000 tons were just compostable waste, so waste that could have been composted, so that’s kind of mixed, people mixing food waste in their trash.  

CLARICE:  Holy cow.  

LEO:  Sometimes trash getting leaf and yard waste that isn’t going to – for composting or for things like paper or other things.  So things that like could be composted or could go to an anaerobic digester but are going in the trash, just that about 100,000 tons that we would need to, and ideally should be, diverting out of trash and finding something else to do with.  So that’s a big problem to handle.  

CLARICE:  That’s a huge problem.  And just to give our listeners some perspective – I don’t know why I decided to quickly Google this – that’s almost two Titanics.  

LEO:  Yeah.  So when you think about – 

CLARICE:  That’s every year.   

LEO:  — what a ton – I mean, when I think about – you know, it’s hard – a ton being 2,000 pounds, you’re right.  It’s hard to think about like what is the equivalent of that.  

CLARICE:  What’s the scale of that.  That’s a huge problem.  Wow.   

LEO:  So it’s just sort of stunning to me that there’s that just amount of food waste and that really a mismatch.  I think we know now the problem around methane, so we know that food waste in landfills produces methane.  We know that methane is a much more problematic greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it really feels like the momentum around solving that problem – we haven’t – you know, not just Rhode Island but nationally we haven’t really cracked.  

And I think it still feels like it’s very much in its infancy in terms of figuring out how do we get all that food waste out of the stream going to the landfill and how do we then also have the range of facilities to manage it in a way that is producing more compost, more renewable energy, and not landfilling.  And that’s what’s both eye popping and, you know, it feels exciting to be really coming in on the ground floor of something that, you know, we’re trying to figure out and trying to develop solutions around but, you know, really in a space that still feels like there’s a lot of potential and innovation and just kind of logistical connections.  

[0:27:14] CLARICE:  And do you think that lack of awareness and that sort of lack of conversation is tied to the fact that, like you said, our waste is almost handled in secret?  It’s that idea of we put it in a dark bag where we don’t have to look at it.  It’s in a bin with a lid.  It gets taken out and goes away and it’s just that idea of discreet and quick removal constantly.  So do you think that’s in a way hindering some of our possible progress?  

LEO:  I do.  And I think it’s – you know, from kind of a cultural – thinking about like how do we think about waste as a culture, I think that’s fascinating and I would agree 100 percent that I think that is to some extent at the center of the problem, that we think of waste as something – we produce it.  We put it out and someone else deals with it and manages where it goes.  And I think part of the challenge of that is, you know, as I mentioned, when you get all these things mixed together it basically means that they’re impossible to then sort out later.  

So the kind of burden of responsible really in some ways needs to shift and I would say the thing that’s probably going to drive that is money.  It needs to shift from the responsibility for sorting and figure out how to kind of find the best use for this is on the end at the waste disposal facility or, you know, on the waste haulers that are picking it up.  And it really needs to come back to the generator, the producer or the consumer.  And I think that’s true – you know, we’ve in some ways started to understand that a little more with recycling, but I think even recycling we’ve sort of seen that this idea that we can create all this mixed recycling and that it will get recycled in the way that we think it will is really not true in the way that we think about it.  

And I think we’ve seen some examples, you know, recently where you’ve seen some of the recycling markets for plastic in particular.  You know, it’s still generally cheaper to produce plastic from fossil fuels in a few form rather than recycle it.  We see this a lot with glass.  You know, glass doesn’t have a lot of value when it’s mixed with all different colors.  So, you know, different color glass when it’s recycled ends up having to go to basically brown glass because you have clear glass, green glass, brown glass.  

So I think there’s sort of a – we’re coming to a point where some of those – like what is really valuable to recycle or what is really – has value that’s higher than landfill trash we really need to be a little clearer on.  And I think the burden of that needs to go back to whoever is generating.  And at the household level, that’s individuals and on the commercial level it’s businesses.  You know, so that responsibility falls back at that level, not kind of at the end of the line.  

[0:30:50] CLARICE:  And speaking of businesses, The Compost Plant has partnered with several different businesses, specifically restaurants and sort of folks who are in the commercial food space.  Tell me a little bit about your work there.  

LEO:  Yeah.  So we do work with a couple other businesses that focus just on serving residential.  I think of it in terms of scale.  So most households, you know, the businesses that service residential would generally be – for example, they’d be picking up a five-gallon bucket from a house once a week or twice a week or once every couple weeks, so it’s kind of – if we think about it in terms of gallons, like a normal house you’d maybe have a small bucket that would get picked up every week.  

When you start to shift into like a restaurant, you know, we work with bins that are closer to 50 gallons.  So, you know, we’re working with small restaurants that are maybe producing 50 or 100 gallons a week.  Then you kind of get into the next level up, you know, a supermarket or like a dining hall at a university.  You know, they’re feeding sometimes thousands of meals every day.  

A supermarket, you know, has turning produce every day.  They have prepared food.  They’re doing cut fruit for customers, so there’s all these different things.  So there we’re picking up sometimes 300, 500 gallons a day.  And then you get into kind of the next scale up would be, you know, like a big food processing facility, so a place that’s producing food for, you know, regional supermarkets.  And there sometimes we’re picking up, I mean, literally tons a day so 20 of those 50-gallon bins, you know, so 1,000 gallons a day, 1,500.  

And that’s the hard piece is how do we – you know, one of the challenges that we started out with is how do we have a kind of collection system that works for a range of customers from that small restaurant that’s producing 50 gallons a day all the way up to that industrial facility that’s producing 1,000 gallons a day.  And that’s really what we worked on and I think have come up with a modified type of, you know, waste truck that’s catered to food waste.  So food waste tends to be really wet.  It tends to be pretty heavy.  

[0:33:24] CLARICE:  There’s that slurry language again.  

LEO:  We are in the slop business.  That’s what I think every day, so.  But that’s really kind of – that was our first focus is how do we basically find a way that works for different customers, you know, commercial and institutional or industrial that we can pick up and that we can get that material out of going to the landfill.  And then the next phase was what do we do with it.  

CLARICE:  And then that’s when it came into this digestive energy-producing exciting idea.  I love this.  

LEO:  That was sort of the evolution.  So we started as a business that was collecting food waste.  We were leasing a farm in northern Rhode Island and we were producing compost and then we were selling compost and potting soils.  And about two years ago, we really had to take a step back and say, we’re spread way too thin.  We’re doing too many things.  What are we really able to do well.  And so we really said, we’re an organic waste business, so we work with generators of food waste at all those scales and we pick it up and transport it.  And we work with compost facilities that are producing compost.  And we work with anaerobic digesters that are producing renewable energy.  And so we are kind of the conduit from where that food waste is generated to where it can be processed in some way that we see as better than it going to the landfill.  

CLARICE:  Awesome, awesome stuff.  Now, I know we’re getting close to time, so I want to wrap up with two questions.  Do you have any tips or ways folks at home could be more helpful?  Is it better recycling, starting our own compost?  I will say my husband gave it a shot.  We learned very quickly there was – you have to stir it.  

LEO:  Yes.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  We didn’t know that the first round.  What can we do?  

LEO:  Yeah.  No.  Clarice, great question.  And I think it’s always kind of we want to take it back to like if you’re someone listening to this and you’re feeling like, oh, this isn’t sitting well, like what can I do.  So it’s interesting.  I worked years ago with EPA and they had a really interesting program called Food:  Too Good To Waste.  And it’s interesting because we always want to think about immediately how do we deal with the food waste when it’s generated, right.  

So like how do we compost at home.  And one of the things that that really worked on is – actually, one of the real impact points we could make is how do we prevent food waste in the first place.  And so a couple just really, really quick kind of things to keep in mind.  So the first was they had a couple kind of tools for people at home to think about.  So the idea was when you’re throwing away food, literally you’re just throwing away money.  So you bought something at a grocery store, you bought something from a restaurant, you didn’t finish it.  It’s just whatever you spent going right into the trash.  

And so I think with that frame the suggestions were so the first thing you can do is any time before you’re going to go shopping shop your fridge first.  So really take kind of an assessment of like what do I have, what do I need, you know, so that you don’t get into the – and I’m guilty of this, as well, is you go to the grocery store and you end up buying something that you already have.  And then what tends to happen is the new thing you bought gets used and the old thing you had starts rotting and then ends up getting thrown away.  

So that was sort of their first is look in your fridge, take kind of quick – and then make a shopping list and do it based on some idea of what meals you’re going to prepare or want to make specifically.  And so that’s going to kind of prevent some stuff in the fridge from not getting used.  They also say like designate an area, or what I found is kind of pull out.  New stuff goes in back.  Older stuff goes in front.  And then you’re more likely to pull the stuff that’s in front and not let it push further back and disappear forever.  

[0:38:02] CLARICE:  I like that.  

LEO:  So kind of tools like that, I think in terms of like there’s going to be food waste.  You know, a couple options.  I would say if you’re someone who’s interested in kind of embarking on home composting it’s not a hard technical thing, but it does require like sort of consistent management.  And so I would say ask yourself like is that something I want to take on.  If not, no judgment.  Then I would look at there are some residential companies now that are providing food waste service for households.  And my hope in the future is we’ll get to the point where that’s more of an offering that cities and towns do, but I think we’re still a ways off from that point.  

So, you know, we work with a couple partners.  One is called Bootstrap Compost.  There’s a great organization in Providence called Harvest Cycle.  And there’s also an organization that focuses right now more on Aquidneck Island called Black Earth Compost and they all are geared towards, you know, kind of home composting.  They have a bucket service.  You pay a monthly fee based on how frequently it’s picked up.  And so I think those are great options, as well.  

CLARICE:  Very cool stuff.  And one more small tip for folks who have forgotten tip one and went grocery shopping and now you have doubles.  Learn about quick pickling.  That was something that I found myself forgetting and buying – you know, it was too many jalapenos or cucumbers or, you know, onions, things like that.  A quick pickle in the Mason jar takes maybe ten minutes start to finish and it is tasty.  

LEO:  I love it.  

CLARICE:  It is some tasty stuff.  So on that note, are there any big takeaways, anything that we should kind of leave here thinking other than our awesome tips on how to be better?  

LEO:  Not specifically.  I mean, I guess my parting thing would be, you know, at the home level, you know, just generally being more kind of aware around, you know, what you buy, what food ends up in the trash, what it could have been used for.  And I think like that’s a great suggestion, too, is sort of using – you know, in that EPA thing one of the things we did was not even with people composting.  

Just putting your food waste into one container helped people really start to understand like, wow, I’m consistently buying this thing and then throwing it away every week.  And so like I either need to use that or not buy it.  So I think, again, it’s sort of back to, you know, what we touched on earlier is the more aware you are of sort of what you’re doing then helps you or gives you kind of more information to be able to make different decisions or change behavior.  And I think that kind of tracking or awareness is kind of a powerful first step in thinking about, what do I need to do differently.  

[0:41:27] CLARICE:  Awesome.  Well, Leo, thank you so much.  This was an awesome conversation.  I’ve learned so much and I really love that awareness piece in sort of preventing it before it becomes waste.  I think that’s really some powerful stuff.  So if you guys ever have any questions, maybe you want to do a follow-up about food waste, if there are any other topics that we brought up that you all want to hear about reach out to us.  We are at Help@DesautelESQ.com. You can hit us up on the socials.  You can comment on our YouTube channel, our Instagram.  If you want to be formal, we do accept e-mails.  But other than that, have an awesome week and weekend, everybody.  Thank you. 

 

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Episode 50 Transcript

CLARICE:  Hello.  Good afternoon, everybody.  Well, afternoon that we’re recording.  My name is Clarice.  I am recording sans Marisa today.  These are one of those very rare and few moments when I get full control of the mic.  I get to go rogue.  And in the spirit of going rogue, I brought on a special guest.  We have Leo Pollock joining us on this week’s episode of Environmentally Speaking.  Hello.  

LEO:  Hello.  

CLARICE:  Thank you for coming on for today’s episode.  So we are focusing on a listener question of food waste which is a gigantic topic as we were just prerecording chatting about.  So in the spirit of talking about food waste and everything that’s involved, tell us how you connect to that.  

LEO:  Yes.  Well, Clarice, appreciate the opportunity to talk food waste, something near and dear to my heart and something that it’s exciting to see, I think, more people are aware of and excited to kind of learn more about.  So, again, Leo Pollock.  So I kind of came into this actually from an interest in agriculture.  So I was doing urban agriculture work kind of and education so kind of teaching people how to grow food in the city.  I worked for a great organization and providence called the Southside Community Land Trust for years.  

And part of it was sort of seeing kind of two separate issues.  One was in thinking about urban agriculture there was a need for more healthy soil both in restoring urban soils and dealing with contamination issues.  And then it was also just a recognition that there was all this food waste that didn’t seem like it was being addressed and most of it was getting mixed with trash and ending up in the landfill.  I didn’t at that point kind of understand the environmental problems that that can create, but seeing that as sort of an opportunity about ten years ago started this business called The Compost Plant with a partner Matt Harris who had a background in sort of rethinking waste streams, as well. 

He had started a business called Newport Biodiesel thinking about used vegetable oil as a fuel that could be turned into biodiesel.  So we kind of put our heads together and thought, wow, there’s really kind of an opportunity here to address this food waste problem and really try to create at that point what we thought was compost potting soils that could serve, you know, a growing urban, suburban gardening, farming market.   

[0:02:59] CLARICE:  That already opens up a thousand questions for me.  I’m so excited already.  So what would you define – let’s start at the way basics, building block one.  What do you define as food waste?  Are we talking leftovers, stuff we just never got to in our produce bin?  

LEO:  Great question.  So kind of starting with that term, and I think, again, it’s unfortunate.  So I think the first thing to understand is really there’s a lot of complexity in that.  You know, I think the first place to start is we need to rethink how we think about waste.  So, you know, food, a number of different forms.  Sometimes, you know, if we go into kind of, you know, the normal house, right, so there’s – you know, there’s both food waste in terms of when we’re preparing food, you know, we’re peeling things.  There are pits in fruit.  

You know, there’s kind of the inedible stuff that is, you know, not wasteful, but obviously there’s nutrients and there’s vitamins and minerals in those things that if they’re going in the trash are sort of tossed, you know, buried in a landfill, never recovered.  So there’s kind of that piece.  There’s also then the, you know, things we leave in the back of our fridge that start to mold or start to rot that, from a food safety standpoint, we’re not going to eat, we’re not going to give to anyone.  

CLARICE:  I might be guilty of that once or twice.  

LEO:  Absolutely.  So that’s another component, so kind of food that’s spoiled that, again, would normally — you know, in most, I would say, American households you find that old leftover container.  You dump it in the trash.  It feels a little bit of guilt of like, oh, I forgot about this.  So there’s kind of that.  And then, you know, when you get into kind of the commercial or, you know, when we think about supermarkets, it’s those same things just at a much larger scale.  

So, you know, the produce aisle in a supermarket, you know, they’re pulling anything out that has spots or that is starting to rot, you know, in part because produce needs to look good, but also in part just if you have a whole bunch of apples together and you start leaving ones that are bruised you’re going to start to get more produce spoiling.  So it’s kind of they have to pick through.  So those things in general traditionally have been kind of mixed with our trash and end up in the landfill.  

And the challenge of that around food waste is, as you know, as food waste starts to break down not only does it start to smell but especially if it’s in a place where it’s buried like a landfill it’s actually producing methane gas which is a greenhouse gas that’s significantly more problematic that carbon dioxide.  So we hear a lot about CO2 carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas that we want to address and methane is another one that we need to think about and that’s really where it ties back to food waste.  

[0:06:17] CLARICE:  I think I’m still stuck on the idea of that old expression one bad apple spoils the bunch.  One bad apple can really just ruin all of its neighbors?  

LEO:  It is true.  

CLARICE:  What?  

LEO:  I’m not a food scientist, but you get kind of – I mean, if you think about it the same reason that, you know, we hopefully want to eat nutritious food is, you know, it’s giving us the energy, the vitamins and minerals kind of we need for every day.  So the downside is there are a lot of bacteria that also, you know, are happy to feed on those same things.  So if food isn’t stored properly or if food isn’t kept at the right temperature, it can spoil.  And you definitely have the problem of once something is kind of on or in one thing and it starts to rot, that’s just going to spread across.  

CLARICE:  It’s going to spread.  Guys, that expression actually – it’s got some solid roots and I might be the last person to think of that.  So we’ve got all of this food waste.  We have this problem of – and now thinking on a larger scale – groups and sort of that display of produce going bad at a supermarket and things like that.  Tell me how compost either helps with methane reduction, how it handles it.  What’s the benefit of it?  

LEO:  Yeah.  So and I think this is good, so I’m going to talk in general kind of from thinking about it like in the commercial industrial space.  That’s really where we work.  So the residential side is similar but has different challenges or different logistics.  But kind of to get to your question, so we have this problem of these volumes are generated in all these places.  So restaurants every day are prepping food.  Restaurants every day are clearing plates that people didn’t finish.  Supermarkets are clearing their produce.  You know, if there’s a larger facility that’s preparing food for a supermarket so, you know, tomato sauce or something they’re going to generate, you know, a lot of food waste in that preparation, as well.  So there are all these different kinds of facilities.  

So, you know, the challenge of how we address it is kind of – there’s a couple different components.  So the first is how do we actually set up a system where it’s separated from trash and picked up.  So there’s kind of the like logistics around how do you work with different size customers.  You know, supermarket very different than a small restaurant.  A small restaurant very different than a large meat processing facility.  So there are those logistics and then the big question is where does it go.  So if it’s not going to the landfill, where can it go that it can be turned into something or – or used in a way that’s better than a landfill and ideally doesn’t produce methane and contribute to global warming.  

So there’s kind of two avenues that seem to be emerging and, you know, have historically been kind of the way to do that.  So the first is, as you mentioned, composting.  So composting, you know, can happen at a household, can happen at a much larger scale on a farm or at an industrial scale facility.  Pretty basic concept in terms of it’s been around for a long time, you know, mostly as a farm-based practice.  So the basic idea of compost is, you know, a recipe similar to baking.  You know, food waste is high in nitro, has a lot of water and liquid.  So that then gets mixed with things that are high in carbon so things like dry leaves or wood chips or sort of brush from landscapers, things like that so carbon high materials that tend to be drier.  

And so you’re trying to get to that sweet spot of mixing nitrogen and carbon and mixing kind of wet and dry to get this kind of optimal carbon to nitrogen ratio and moisture.  And then the beautiful thing is the bacteria that naturally live on food waste and that natural live in leaves and straw and those kinds of things are basically then – you’ve given them kind of the optimal parameters and they’re going to start to basically digest that down and break all that food waste that could smell bad, produce methane.  

It’s going to basically stabilize it as a soil amendment so as something that smells, has no odor in the end.  It kind of smells like a forest floor, you know, kind of an earthy mushroomy smell and that then is a great addition to farms, gardens.  It’s going to lock nutrients up in a way that is going to make them available to plants over a long term and that, again, kind of stabilizes that food waste, stops it from going anaerobic and producing methane.  And it’s going to then stabilize it in a form, you know, of sort of a soil amendment.  I’m going to use some terms in here that are a little nerdy, wonky in the industry, so I apologize for that.  And feel free to ask — 

[0:12:08] CLARICE:  I think this might be the place to be a full nerd.  

LEO:  I’ll embrace it.  

CLARICE:  So that first route of composting actually prevents there being a huge amount of methane leftover, so in that case we’re not even dealing with that biproduct.  You’ve kind of cut it off at the head.  

LEO:  Exactly.  

CLARICE:  So tell me about the commercial route.  Tell me a little bit more.  We’ve left my backyard.  We’re now – I don’t know.  I’m like an uneaten French fry at a restaurant.  Where do I go?  What happens?  

LEO:  Yeah.  So, you know, same process.  And so compost is kind of one direction that that can go.  The other is – and this was something when we started the business I was less familiar with, but the term in industry is called anaerobic digesters.  A lot of times they’re called AD facilities.  And those are a different – so it’s sort of the opposite approach.  They also incorporate food waste.  

The idea here is it’s sort of the same process that would be naturally happening in a landfill so producing methane gas but in a controlled environment where that methane is captured fully, contained, and then that methane can then be used as either – it can be burned for electricity, so it’s sort of a renewable energy route, or it can be kind of compressed and cleaned into a gas that can run larger vehicles.  So you see some municipal bus fleets or service fleets.  Like waste management runs a lot of their trucks on natural gas.  So as an alternative to diesel fuel, things like that.  So, you know, it’s sort of either food waste turned into compost as a soil or it’s food waste turned into renewable energy and it in some way is then integrated into the energy grid.  

CLARICE:  You said that so casually.  That’s such an exciting idea.  You can take food waste and capture all of that methane and power a bus.  

LEO:  And I would say that’s one of the areas that, you know, is still really from an infrastructure so the actual facilities in the U.S.  There aren’t that many here.  There’s a lot more in Europe, but it’s something that I think we’ll see and you may be hearing more and more about is that I think will be part of when we talk about sort of what is renewable energy.  A lot of people immediately think, oh, you know, in Rhode Island we have offshore wind.  We have a lot of solar.  You know, in other parts of northern New England you have hydropower.  So those are kind of the ones that we tend to be familiar with, but anaerobic digesters are going to be part of that picture and they’re not something that we’re finding a lot of people know anything about right now.  

But it’s kind of an amazing concept is in either case food is energy, so it’s either ending up as a stored energy that’s then available to plants in the form of compost or it’s literally producing energy in the form of gas.  In one case in a landfill, that gas is just going into the atmosphere and it’s creating a lot of problems.  If it’s contained and it’s intentional and the facility is operating well, that’s producing a gas that can replace, you know, fracking gas or replacing electricity that would come from coal or other sources.  You know, that’s seen as a renewable energy that’s replacing traditional fossil fuels in that case.  

[0:16:15] CLARICE:  That is such a cool concept.  Oh, I love this idea.  And once you’ve sort of – it’s gone through, I guess, maybe digestion or whatever that breakdown is, what’s left?  You’ve pulled the methane out.  Is it a pile of dust?  

LEO:  Great question.  And this, I think, is where, you know, the initial excitement starts to get a little more complicated on both sides.  So, you know, and I can talk personally.  So, you know, ten years ago when we started The Compost Plant, my thought was, you know, if we could figure out a way to work with a lot of different commercial customers and get a lot of that food waste out of the landfill it could be composted.  We’d reduce that amount of methane.  There would then be more compost available for gardens and farms and that would be a solution.  

One of the challenges of that is then, you know, Rhode Island, very small state, very densely populated state, you know, challenges around, well, where do you site compost facilities.  They need a lot of acreage.  They need a lot of equipment.  You know, you have a challenge of they can’t be necessarily near watersheds because of potential runoff, so, you know, there are a lot of kind of challenges in implementing that.  I would say with anaerobic digesters, you know, one of the challenges is – you’re right – what happens after that methane gas is produced, the energy is captured.  So you end up with a couple.  You end up with sort of what they call in the industry kind of a slurry.  So it’s sort of a – it looks like – 

CLARICE:  Oh, Leo, that’s a word.   

LEO:  — maybe wet soil, kind of a brown slurry.  So that then either has to be used in some way or processed further into something that then is stable again.  So some slurry from digesters is then composted.  The problem then is you’re starting with kind of a lower level of nutrition because a lot of the energy from it has gone into the gas production.  Some places are experimenting with kind of drying that out and turning it into, you know, like almost like a fertilizer pellet so something that would then turn it into, again, having a use.  But that is one of the challenges.  There’s no like, this is the tried-and-true answer.  

We’ve seen some digesters that are now siting on dairy farms.  And one of the benefits of that is if they have – sorry.  So we’re finding some anaerobic digesters are sited on dairy farms.  One of the benefits of that is that slurry can then be applied to fields.  You know, if they’re growing corn for cattle feed it can be used as basically a directly land-applied fertilizer that is going to then be available, you know, as a fertilizer replacement for plants, as well.  So that’s one where it seems like based on where the facility is being located it has a direct land use application there that has some benefit.  

And then the kind of dry material that they would screen out can be used for bedding for cows and things like that.  So there are challenges of it.  There’s some solutions coming up.  But I think this is the – the learning lesson I’ve had is, you know, there’s no perfect answer for this.  You know, there are benefits on one side.  There are challenges.  Some of it, I think, depends on kind of regionally what’s available.  So in places where there’s a huge amount of land, you know, composting may be a better solution.  The challenge then is similar to the digester is if you produce a lot of compost where is that compost going.  It’s a heavy material.  It’s like moving soil.  So it has to be transported to a place where it can be used.  If you then transport it, you’re creating more emissions in terms of moving stuff with large trucks, so it starts to get messy really fast.  

[0:20:55] CLARICE:  And you had said this is one of the lessons.  Would you be able to share sort of a surprising lesson that you’ve learned in the kind of birth and development of the compost plan?  

LEO:  Yeah.  I mean, I think the – and I have a couple numbers that I just made a note of.  But I think the real kind of big revelation to me in – you know, I did not grow up in the waste industry.  It’s a newer area to me and I find it fascinating because it’s generally sort of – the idea in American culture is it’s invisible.  That was always surprising to me that, you know, we put out our trash.  It’s picked up, you know, at early morning or when people are at work and then we come home and the bins are empty or things get emptied and we never see where they go and we never hear anything back.  

And so it’s sort of like we produce waste and it disappears and that I find really fascinating from just — in some ways the waste industry is so efficient and, you know, tuned into the logistics of it.  On the other hand I think we pay a price in terms of when we don’t have awareness of what happens to things we tend to lose what the impacts or we tend to not have any feedback about how to change behaviors that might impact that.  And I think the biggest challenge of that is and the realization that the scale of what we’re talking about is just stunning.  

So, you know, just looking at Rhode Island which I – Rhode Island to me is always interesting because, you know, we are the smallest state, but I think it’s a fascinating example because it gives kind of a scale that things can be a little easier to understand.  And then think about, you know, a state like New York or California as X numbers of Rhode Island, you know, to kind of extrapolate from that to think about it like, whoa, that’s different when you’re in a state with 12 million people.  But just to give an idea, I mean, we’re talking about the central landfill in Rhode Island.  

Rhode Island Resource Recovery did a kind of waste analysis study I think in 2018 and they saw that, you know, just the amount of food waste that was getting mixed in with trash, you know, was about 100,000 tons – one ton being 2,000 pounds – a year just from the residential sector.  So that’s, you know, the municipalities that are picking up trash and bringing it to the one landfill.  And this is in a state with a million people.  We’re talking about, you know, 100,000 tons times 2,000 pounds a year.  Commercially it’s a little lower but, you know, on a similar scale and that just feels like – 

[0:24:18] CLARICE:  Just to go back, you said over 100,000 tons?  

LEO:  They said about 90,000 tons were just compostable waste, so waste that could have been composted, so that’s kind of mixed, people mixing food waste in their trash.  

CLARICE:  Holy cow.  

LEO:  Sometimes trash getting leaf and yard waste that isn’t going to – for composting or for things like paper or other things.  So things that like could be composted or could go to an anaerobic digester but are going in the trash, just that about 100,000 tons that we would need to, and ideally should be, diverting out of trash and finding something else to do with.  So that’s a big problem to handle.  

CLARICE:  That’s a huge problem.  And just to give our listeners some perspective – I don’t know why I decided to quickly Google this – that’s almost two Titanics.  

LEO:  Yeah.  So when you think about – 

CLARICE:  That’s every year.   

LEO:  — what a ton – I mean, when I think about – you know, it’s hard – a ton being 2,000 pounds, you’re right.  It’s hard to think about like what is the equivalent of that.  

CLARICE:  What’s the scale of that.  That’s a huge problem.  Wow.   

LEO:  So it’s just sort of stunning to me that there’s that just amount of food waste and that really a mismatch.  I think we know now the problem around methane, so we know that food waste in landfills produces methane.  We know that methane is a much more problematic greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it really feels like the momentum around solving that problem – we haven’t – you know, not just Rhode Island but nationally we haven’t really cracked.  

And I think it still feels like it’s very much in its infancy in terms of figuring out how do we get all that food waste out of the stream going to the landfill and how do we then also have the range of facilities to manage it in a way that is producing more compost, more renewable energy, and not landfilling.  And that’s what’s both eye popping and, you know, it feels exciting to be really coming in on the ground floor of something that, you know, we’re trying to figure out and trying to develop solutions around but, you know, really in a space that still feels like there’s a lot of potential and innovation and just kind of logistical connections.  

[0:27:14] CLARICE:  And do you think that lack of awareness and that sort of lack of conversation is tied to the fact that, like you said, our waste is almost handled in secret?  It’s that idea of we put it in a dark bag where we don’t have to look at it.  It’s in a bin with a lid.  It gets taken out and goes away and it’s just that idea of discreet and quick removal constantly.  So do you think that’s in a way hindering some of our possible progress?  

LEO:  I do.  And I think it’s – you know, from kind of a cultural – thinking about like how do we think about waste as a culture, I think that’s fascinating and I would agree 100 percent that I think that is to some extent at the center of the problem, that we think of waste as something – we produce it.  We put it out and someone else deals with it and manages where it goes.  And I think part of the challenge of that is, you know, as I mentioned, when you get all these things mixed together it basically means that they’re impossible to then sort out later.  

So the kind of burden of responsible really in some ways needs to shift and I would say the thing that’s probably going to drive that is money.  It needs to shift from the responsibility for sorting and figure out how to kind of find the best use for this is on the end at the waste disposal facility or, you know, on the waste haulers that are picking it up.  And it really needs to come back to the generator, the producer or the consumer.  And I think that’s true – you know, we’ve in some ways started to understand that a little more with recycling, but I think even recycling we’ve sort of seen that this idea that we can create all this mixed recycling and that it will get recycled in the way that we think it will is really not true in the way that we think about it.  

And I think we’ve seen some examples, you know, recently where you’ve seen some of the recycling markets for plastic in particular.  You know, it’s still generally cheaper to produce plastic from fossil fuels in a few form rather than recycle it.  We see this a lot with glass.  You know, glass doesn’t have a lot of value when it’s mixed with all different colors.  So, you know, different color glass when it’s recycled ends up having to go to basically brown glass because you have clear glass, green glass, brown glass.  

So I think there’s sort of a – we’re coming to a point where some of those – like what is really valuable to recycle or what is really – has value that’s higher than landfill trash we really need to be a little clearer on.  And I think the burden of that needs to go back to whoever is generating.  And at the household level, that’s individuals and on the commercial level it’s businesses.  You know, so that responsibility falls back at that level, not kind of at the end of the line.  

[0:30:50] CLARICE:  And speaking of businesses, The Compost Plant has partnered with several different businesses, specifically restaurants and sort of folks who are in the commercial food space.  Tell me a little bit about your work there.  

LEO:  Yeah.  So we do work with a couple other businesses that focus just on serving residential.  I think of it in terms of scale.  So most households, you know, the businesses that service residential would generally be – for example, they’d be picking up a five-gallon bucket from a house once a week or twice a week or once every couple weeks, so it’s kind of – if we think about it in terms of gallons, like a normal house you’d maybe have a small bucket that would get picked up every week.  

When you start to shift into like a restaurant, you know, we work with bins that are closer to 50 gallons.  So, you know, we’re working with small restaurants that are maybe producing 50 or 100 gallons a week.  Then you kind of get into the next level up, you know, a supermarket or like a dining hall at a university.  You know, they’re feeding sometimes thousands of meals every day.  

A supermarket, you know, has turning produce every day.  They have prepared food.  They’re doing cut fruit for customers, so there’s all these different things.  So there we’re picking up sometimes 300, 500 gallons a day.  And then you get into kind of the next scale up would be, you know, like a big food processing facility, so a place that’s producing food for, you know, regional supermarkets.  And there sometimes we’re picking up, I mean, literally tons a day so 20 of those 50-gallon bins, you know, so 1,000 gallons a day, 1,500.  

And that’s the hard piece is how do we – you know, one of the challenges that we started out with is how do we have a kind of collection system that works for a range of customers from that small restaurant that’s producing 50 gallons a day all the way up to that industrial facility that’s producing 1,000 gallons a day.  And that’s really what we worked on and I think have come up with a modified type of, you know, waste truck that’s catered to food waste.  So food waste tends to be really wet.  It tends to be pretty heavy.  

[0:33:24] CLARICE:  There’s that slurry language again.  

LEO:  We are in the slop business.  That’s what I think every day, so.  But that’s really kind of – that was our first focus is how do we basically find a way that works for different customers, you know, commercial and institutional or industrial that we can pick up and that we can get that material out of going to the landfill.  And then the next phase was what do we do with it.  

CLARICE:  And then that’s when it came into this digestive energy-producing exciting idea.  I love this.  

LEO:  That was sort of the evolution.  So we started as a business that was collecting food waste.  We were leasing a farm in northern Rhode Island and we were producing compost and then we were selling compost and potting soils.  And about two years ago, we really had to take a step back and say, we’re spread way too thin.  We’re doing too many things.  What are we really able to do well.  And so we really said, we’re an organic waste business, so we work with generators of food waste at all those scales and we pick it up and transport it.  And we work with compost facilities that are producing compost.  And we work with anaerobic digesters that are producing renewable energy.  And so we are kind of the conduit from where that food waste is generated to where it can be processed in some way that we see as better than it going to the landfill.  

CLARICE:  Awesome, awesome stuff.  Now, I know we’re getting close to time, so I want to wrap up with two questions.  Do you have any tips or ways folks at home could be more helpful?  Is it better recycling, starting our own compost?  I will say my husband gave it a shot.  We learned very quickly there was – you have to stir it.  

LEO:  Yes.  

CLARICE:  Yeah.  We didn’t know that the first round.  What can we do?  

LEO:  Yeah.  No.  Clarice, great question.  And I think it’s always kind of we want to take it back to like if you’re someone listening to this and you’re feeling like, oh, this isn’t sitting well, like what can I do.  So it’s interesting.  I worked years ago with EPA and they had a really interesting program called Food:  Too Good To Waste.  And it’s interesting because we always want to think about immediately how do we deal with the food waste when it’s generated, right.  

So like how do we compost at home.  And one of the things that that really worked on is – actually, one of the real impact points we could make is how do we prevent food waste in the first place.  And so a couple just really, really quick kind of things to keep in mind.  So the first was they had a couple kind of tools for people at home to think about.  So the idea was when you’re throwing away food, literally you’re just throwing away money.  So you bought something at a grocery store, you bought something from a restaurant, you didn’t finish it.  It’s just whatever you spent going right into the trash.  

And so I think with that frame the suggestions were so the first thing you can do is any time before you’re going to go shopping shop your fridge first.  So really take kind of an assessment of like what do I have, what do I need, you know, so that you don’t get into the – and I’m guilty of this, as well, is you go to the grocery store and you end up buying something that you already have.  And then what tends to happen is the new thing you bought gets used and the old thing you had starts rotting and then ends up getting thrown away.  

So that was sort of their first is look in your fridge, take kind of quick – and then make a shopping list and do it based on some idea of what meals you’re going to prepare or want to make specifically.  And so that’s going to kind of prevent some stuff in the fridge from not getting used.  They also say like designate an area, or what I found is kind of pull out.  New stuff goes in back.  Older stuff goes in front.  And then you’re more likely to pull the stuff that’s in front and not let it push further back and disappear forever.  

[0:38:02] CLARICE:  I like that.  

LEO:  So kind of tools like that, I think in terms of like there’s going to be food waste.  You know, a couple options.  I would say if you’re someone who’s interested in kind of embarking on home composting it’s not a hard technical thing, but it does require like sort of consistent management.  And so I would say ask yourself like is that something I want to take on.  If not, no judgment.  Then I would look at there are some residential companies now that are providing food waste service for households.  And my hope in the future is we’ll get to the point where that’s more of an offering that cities and towns do, but I think we’re still a ways off from that point.  

So, you know, we work with a couple partners.  One is called Bootstrap Compost.  There’s a great organization in Providence called Harvest Cycle.  And there’s also an organization that focuses right now more on Aquidneck Island called Black Earth Compost and they all are geared towards, you know, kind of home composting.  They have a bucket service.  You pay a monthly fee based on how frequently it’s picked up.  And so I think those are great options, as well.  

CLARICE:  Very cool stuff.  And one more small tip for folks who have forgotten tip one and went grocery shopping and now you have doubles.  Learn about quick pickling.  That was something that I found myself forgetting and buying – you know, it was too many jalapenos or cucumbers or, you know, onions, things like that.  A quick pickle in the Mason jar takes maybe ten minutes start to finish and it is tasty.  

LEO:  I love it.  

CLARICE:  It is some tasty stuff.  So on that note, are there any big takeaways, anything that we should kind of leave here thinking other than our awesome tips on how to be better?  

LEO:  Not specifically.  I mean, I guess my parting thing would be, you know, at the home level, you know, just generally being more kind of aware around, you know, what you buy, what food ends up in the trash, what it could have been used for.  And I think like that’s a great suggestion, too, is sort of using – you know, in that EPA thing one of the things we did was not even with people composting.  

Just putting your food waste into one container helped people really start to understand like, wow, I’m consistently buying this thing and then throwing it away every week.  And so like I either need to use that or not buy it.  So I think, again, it’s sort of back to, you know, what we touched on earlier is the more aware you are of sort of what you’re doing then helps you or gives you kind of more information to be able to make different decisions or change behavior.  And I think that kind of tracking or awareness is kind of a powerful first step in thinking about, what do I need to do differently.  

[0:41:27] CLARICE:  Awesome.  Well, Leo, thank you so much.  This was an awesome conversation.  I’ve learned so much and I really love that awareness piece in sort of preventing it before it becomes waste.  I think that’s really some powerful stuff.  So if you guys ever have any questions, maybe you want to do a follow-up about food waste, if there are any other topics that we brought up that you all want to hear about reach out to us.  We are at Help@DesautelESQ.com. You can hit us up on the socials.  You can comment on our YouTube channel, our Instagram.  If you want to be formal, we do accept e-mails.  But other than that, have an awesome week and weekend, everybody.  Thank you. 

 

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