A handful of local businesses — and a South Shore school — are taking South Lake Tahoe food waste management to the next level, and hope to close the recycling circle by spring. Composting isn't new to the South Shore. David Hansen, engineering director at Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Hotel and & Ski Resort, spearheaded the program in 2008 when the hotel challenged him to find ways to cut costs. Hansen began loading up the hotel's food waste in his truck and transporting it to Full Circle Compost Inc. in Minden, Nev., as part of a larger sustainability program. When South Lake Tahoe Sustainability Consultant Garry Bowen realized the initiative's potential to grow, he helped bring the Fire + Ice Restaurant & Bar and Aramark Parks and Destinations, which manages Zephyr Cove Resort & Marina, on board. They've recycled about 100 tons of food waste in three years, Bowen said, and now Compost Tahoe is moving into phase two — involving more local businesses.“We wanted to start it at a local level and get more people involved. What it took was businesses finally saying yes. What got it rolling was the community's willingness. There's a real need for it,” co-chairwoman of the Lake Tahoe Sustainability Collaborative's Human Health and Social Well-Being workgroup Hannah Greenstreet said. South Tahoe Refuse donated a composting bin to MacDuff's Public House last week. Now the pub, Freshies Restaurant, Tahoe Bowl, Simple Bliss Vegan Cafe and Free Bird all dump their food waste —napkins and paper towels are compostable, but plastics are not —into the central bin that gets emptied every Thursday by South Tahoe Refuse. The South Shore waste management company then transports the bin's contents to Full Circle Compost Inc. where Craig Witt, owner of the manufacturer and supplier of humidified compost, turns the waste into fertilizer and soil using 10-week system. South Tahoe Refuse also picks up food waste from Sierra House Elementary School, which started its own composting pilot program three weeks ago. Students lined up behind four trash cans in the cafeteria Tuesday, where they dumped liquids, separated milk cartons and plastics, and deposited leftovers. “It's building the understanding in kids that not everything we produce is trash. We're at the very ground level but we'd like to take some field trips to Full Circle. The biggest thing we'd like to see is full student ownership of the program,” Sierra House Principal Ryan Galles said. Galles said that if funding permits, he'd like to establish a student garden at the school and start tying the science of composting and waste management into the curriculum. Greenstreet hopes to get another set of businesses involved with Compost Tahoe by early 2013 by setting up an additional bin near Rude Brothers and Sprouts Natural Foods Cafe. Encouraging more restaurants to use the composting bins would decrease the costs for individual owners. According to Greenstreet, the bin at MacDuff's costs $213 per week to transform the waste into compost. Composting costs about three times as much money as normal trash services, South Tahoe Refuse Owner John Marchini said. He stressed that the city of South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado and Douglas counties, as well as local businesses and South Tahoe Refuse will all have to collaborate to move the project forward. “It keeps the material from going to the landfill. It gets turned into a a very good composting material that can come back to the South Shore,” Marchini said. For large companies like Embassy Suites, composting and recycling can actually save money. Hansen said that the hotel has saved about $30,000 per year because of its recycling efforts, and the goal is to help smaller businesses capitalize on potential savings. Ideally, Greenstreet said she wants to see the compost return to South Lake Tahoe as soil for community gardens in the spring. That might mean starting a composting facility on the South Shore to avoid transportation costs, but at the moment the groups are waiting to see how the pilot program evolves. “It's literally coming full circle —the food waste goes back to creating food here. (The businesses) are most excited that composting is happening. It's something good for the environment that's good for Tahoe,” she said.
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