Stop Food Waste Week
Managing Food Waste at Work
Although trying to prevent food waste is the best step to take, there will always be some food waste generated in the workplace. Though much of this will consist of unavoidable food wastes like tea bags, orange peels and other organic materials, ideally they should be segregated.
However, many workplaces in Ireland still dispose of food into the general waste. A study carried out in 2018 found that over one third (36%) of the general waste from offices in Ireland was food waste! On top of this, almost 5% of the recycling waste from offices was made up of food waste. Unless your workplace supplies food on site, there is currently no legal requirement to segregate food waste. However, doing so has its benefits, both financially and environmentally.
Why make the change?
Food in the general waste goes to landfill or for incineration. Food in the recycling bin contaminates other materials meaning they can no longer be recycled. Obviously these are far from ideal solutions.
“Segregating food waste from the general and recycling
wastes is better for the environment but it will also
reduce the weight of general waste bins”
If it’s segregated, food waste can be used to make biogas, compost, and other soil improvers. This step is an important part in creating a circular and sustainable food system. Anaerobic digestion facilities produce biogas, a renewable alternative to natural gas, which is used to generate heat and electricity. They also produce digestate, similar to compost, which can also be used as a soil amendment as a replacement for fertilisers to grow crops.
Segregating food waste from the general and recycling wastes is better for the environment but it will also reduce the weight of general waste bins and could help save the business money by lowering waste bills (which are often charged based on weight).
Options for Food Waste management at Work
Brown bins are the simplest and most common solution for workplaces. They can be provided by your waste management company and come in a variety of sizes. Though many people now have these at home, it is important to communicate with colleagues about getting a brown bin. Once in place, make sure everyone knows about it and provide training/signage on what can, and what shouldn’t, be put in it.
Food can be separated in kitchenettes or break rooms using small caddies lined with compostable bags. It may be necessary to include cleaning staff, or whoever deals with the waste bins, in the discussion about changing waste management practices. Obeo bags are one hassle-free way of sorting your food waste. They are compostable boxes for food waste.
When food is disposed of in brown bins, it is then sent to either a commercial composting or an anaerobic digestion facility. The compost facilities either bag the compost for sale or provide it in large quantities to farmers to use as a soil improver.
In some workplaces, on-site composting might be an option. This is an alternate way to deal with food waste and, because the wastes are managed on site, it has as little impact on the environment as possible. But remember, on-site composting requires effort, commitment and a bit of paperwork.
In order to compost, both green (high in nitrogen) and brown (high in carbon) materials are needed. A typical workplace will have a relatively steady source of food waste, a green material, but may not have as many sources of brown materials. Shredded paper, torn cardboard, newspaper and kitchen paper are common sources of brown material in an office. Other sources like autumn leaves, sawdust or straw can help too. A compost system with too much green materials may get slimy and smelly. Try to get a 50:50 mix of brown to green.
There are many different types of composter. Identifying the amount of food waste your workplace produces and the availability of brown materials is an essential first step in figuring out what would work best for you.
The best option for workplaces are usually a tumbler or wormery. Tumblers are enclosed drums or cylindrical composters that are mounted on a base or stand which makes easy work of turning the compost. They only require a small amount of space and are enclosed to keep out rain and pests.
Wormeries can be a great way to manage food scraps and they produce great compost. Trays, plastic bins or boxes can be used to house the worms. Wormeries do not need a large amount of garden waste, and will give a very high quality food waste focused compost.
For more information on the different systems and all things composting see the Stop Food Waste Composting Guide.
If you’re not in a position to get a brown bin at work, there are still steps you can take as individuals. One of the simplest solutions is to bring it home. Most of us bring a full lunchbox to work with us so, why not use it to bring food waste home too?
For more information about managing your waste at work and at home, visit mywaste.ie.
 Composting is classed as on-site treatment of waste. Businesses require a Certificate of Registration which can be gotten from your Local Authority.
Banner Photo by @drew_beamer via Unsplash