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Four businesses begin composting their food waste

Matt Welch
mwelch@tahoedailytribune.com
Shannon Litz / Tribune News ServiceSoil essence at Full Circle Compost. Four South Lake Tahoe businesses have begun sending their food waste down to Minden to become compost.
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – It started with a pick-up truck full of uneaten food, but food waste composting in South Lake Tahoe has recently picked up some steam.

Embassy Suites started the trend in January 2009 when David Hansen, the resort’s director of engineering, began looking for ways to make the property more environmentally friendly. For 10 months, Hansen used his pick-up truck to haul four to eight cubic yards of food waste per week from the basin down to Full Circle Compost in Minden.

Then, he said, South Tahoe Refuse started hauling the waste, which allowed for the creation of a larger program in early February of this year. Now, four businesses are on board for a pilot of the food waste composting project.

“The plan is to grow it throughout the community as we can,” Hansen said.

Currently, the Marriott properties and Zephyr Cove Resort are participating along with Embassy Suites, Hansen said. Once they work out the kinks and streamline the process, he hopes to expand the project to other area businesses.

“I’m very excited about how it’s going so far and I’m just anxious about other properties getting involved,” Hansen said.

The food composting project started with the commercial sector because that helps control the contaminants in the food, said Tom Wendell, a member of the South Lake Tahoe Sustainability Commission. Contaminants can inhibit the composting process, so the ability to know what exactly is in the food – and what isn’t – can make it go more smoothly, he said.

Wendell said the project helps the environment by reducing the amount of food in landfills and by eliminating lengthy truck trips filled with food waste.

“It has a lot of components that are sustainability oriented,” Wendell said.

Craig Witt of Full Circle Composting said he’s been receiving food waste from Tahoe for about a year, though he’s been composting green waste from the area for about 15 years. Food waste is the heaviest item in the waste stream, he said, so it’s good to get it composted to save space and create rich soil that fits with the area’s needs.

“We make products that are designed to be used in the Tahoe basin, created by things that came from the Tahoe basin,” Witt said.

All the parties involved demonstrate the collaborative nature of making meaningful environmental changes, Witt said.

“I call what we do ‘we-cycling,’ because I can’t do it myself,” he said.

The final goal for the project is to use the nutrient-rich soil – what Wendell calls “a special Tahoe blend” of soil – created by the compost to fuel community gardens in South Lake Tahoe. The organizers hope to build a geodesic dome where produce can be grown locally year-round, he said, which has been done at altitudes in Colorado.

Hansen and the Embassy Suites can already see the complete circle, he said.

“Our hotel only buys soil from Full Circle Compost,” he said, “so it’s kind of a full circle if you think about it.”


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