St. Louis Office Diverts 11 Tons From Landfill

The left bin shown here collects recyclable food waste to be composted; the right bin collects non-recyclable material that goes into landfills.

The future of composting food and other biodegradable waste in large multi-tenant office buildings is unfolding in a pilot program orchestrated by HOK in its St. Louis headquarters at the One Metropolitan Square (Met Square) downtown. HOK, a global architectural firm, is managing an $18,000 grant engaging eight Met Square tenants in the pilot program that began on October 26, 2011. Through December 12, 2011, the tenants have recycled 11.33 tons of food waste for composting, averaging more than 1.5 tons of food each week. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans discard more than 96 billion pounds of prepared food each year.

“We design buildings for performance with the goal of optimizing functionality and providing long term value for owners,” said Tim Gaidis, senior associate and sustainable design practice leader at HOK. “Large scale composting initiatives play into that because there is a cost associated with waste disposal that can be mitigated by sustainable practices. If appropriate food waste and biodegradable utensils and plates are diverted from a building’s trash compactor, it reduces maintenance cost and the number of required trash hauls. Beyond that, the more we recycle and repurpose, the less need we have to create and maintain landfills. It’s environmental stewardship that saves money at both the private and public sector levels!”

HOK received the $18,000 grant from the St. Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District to purchase food collection bins and subcontract hauling services. In partnership with property manager Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), six additional tenants of Met Square are joining HOK and JLL in the food recycling program: Bryan Cave; Java Plus; KAI Design & Build, Kemoll’s; the Regional Chamber and Growth Association (RCGA); and Top of the Met. Program leaders anticipate that all Met Square tenants will join the food recycling effort by mid-2013.

How It Works
“Program success fully depends on a business’ ability to educate employees, change longstanding behavior and engage the team in ongoing learning and recycling efforts,” said Mary Ostafi, sustainability specialist at HOK. “We implemented a rigorous educational program to jumpstart food collection, including an all team presentation on the benefits of composting, as well as training on which food materials are compostable. Ongoing education continues through monthly updates to answer food recycling questions and inform the team on how much food is being diverted from landfills by its efforts. We also reward associates regularly through a trivia type survey that encourages continued learning.”

Each participating business assigns a “Compost Champion” to build and encourage individual employee participation, as well as manage education on proper food and material recycling. Food recyclables include fruits and vegetables; breads and cereal; dairy; coffee grounds, filters and tea bags; compostable service ware; and even some soiled paper goods, such as milk cartons, pizza boxes, and paper towels. Food waste is picked up by Always Green Recycling, Inc., delivered to St. Louis Composting, and transferred to St. Louis Composting’s facility in Belleville, IL where it is processed and converted to a reusable, garden friendly compost product. (Read TFM’s February 2011 Sidebar article on implementing composting, written by St. Louis Composting president, Patrick Geraty.)