National Aquarium Turning Guests’ Trash Into Soil

Compostable cups, plates, containers, and lids will be turned into nutrient-rich soil and mulch for area farms, gardens, and Waterfront Park surrounding the Baltimore Aquarium.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD is embarking on an innovative new effort to turn guests’ trash into rich, fertile soil – rather than ending up in area landfills. Eco-Products, based in Boulder, CO, is supplying thousands of compostable cups, plates, lids, utensils, containers and trays to the Aquarium’s food service locations. These items are replacing all conventional disposable foodware plastic products with reusable, compostable, or more sustainable options.

Baltimore National Aquarium
Photo: Andrew Horne

“This change is at the heart of our conservation mission, eliminating sources of pollution both for ecosystem and human health, and inspiring our guests to do the same, even after their visit,” said Kris Hoellen, chief conservation officer at the National Aquarium. “Utilizing innovative Eco-Products items promotes an essential life-cycle approach to materials, whereby what once went in a landfill is now helping our trees and plants grow.”

The new effort actually simplifies things for guests. All plates, utensils and trays can go into the same bin for compostables – along with any leftover food.

“It’s hard to get guests to first scrape the cheese off a plastic plate – and then toss the cheese into one bin to be composted and the plate into another,” said Sarah Martinez, director of marketing at Eco-Products. “This makes it as easy as possible to divert materials from landfills. Guests can throw their plate, cup and any leftover food into the same bin.”

Even better, the cups, plates, containers and lids from the Aquarium will have a second life: They’ll be turned into nutrient-rich soil and mulch for Baltimore area farms, gardens – and even Waterfront Park surrounding the Aquarium.

The compostable cups, plates, utensils, and trays from the Aquarium will be combined with other organic waste at Recycled Green Industries, a commercial composting facility in Woodbine, MD. A portion of the resulting soil from this process will return to the Inner Harbor to be used in planters on campus, bringing the journey full circle.

Eco-Products is supplying compostable cups, plates, lids, utensils, containers, and trays to the National Aquarium’s food service locations.

Diverting food and packaging from the landfill has numerous benefits: Not only does it extend the life of landfills, but treating soil with compost also minimizes the need for irrigation and artificial fertilizers, which could have harmful effects on the world’s ocean and aquatic animals.

“The benefits of this effort extend way beyond the National Aquarium,” said Martinez. “It’s a wonderful example of how used items don’t need to become waste. They can have another life.”

The new effort culminates a multiyear effort to reduce the use of conventional disposable plastics across the Aquarium’s operations. Working closely with on-site partners Sodexo, the Classic Catering People, Pepsi and others, the Aquarium had already eliminated all disposable water bottles, ended the use of plastic bags in the gift shops, and eliminated conventional single-use plastics at catering events.

That effort now goes all the way to providing plates made from sugarcane for guests at the Aquarium. Now every compostable product serves as a reminder about being smarter when it comes to our natural resources.

“There’s no better opportunity to reach people than when they’re relaxing for a meal at a place as inspiring as the National Aquarium,” said Martinez. “They’re looking at a cup or plate and realizing that it doesn’t have to go to a landfill. That’s a wonderful feeling to be part of the solution.”