Food Waste Composting in the Washington DC Metro Region: A History

Food Waste Composting in the Washington DC Metro Region: A History

In 2002, the World Bank’s food service operations for their offices in Washington DC, headed by Margaret Clark, set out in search of a solution for their food waste.  With over 10,000 occupants in their buildings, and food service operations catering to everything from quick lunches to conferences and white tablecloth meals with diplomats, their operations were formidable.


Their own search for vendors left them empty handed.


Before Devoured was Devoured, we got involved.


The first solution was with a contractor working with a small, un-permitted farm.  After a few months of operations, the contractor bowed out and left the bank empty handed. In mid-2003, we began to work to build a more sustainable food waste recycling infrastructure.  We partnered with a composting facility to work with in Cambridge, Maryland called New Earth Services, and began to lobby Washington DC’s Department of Health for a variance from DC Public Health Codes that require all commercially generated food waste to be disposed of through garbage disposals, into the sewer. The District, having an old, open, combined sewer system, had problems with sewer capacity, overflows, and even sewage backups into older buildings.  We enlisted the support of officials managing Blue Plains, and in 2 years received a variance to the Department of Health’s garbage disposal requirements in order to operate a food waste collection and recycling service, largely thanks to Mayor Anthony Williams’ efforts to lay the groundwork for DC’s sustainability initiatives and his appointment of fresh directors and many of the key DC agencies.


In 2005 we continued to work with the World Bank, GSA, EPA and private businesses in the area to create a food recycling service. The key to the service, at this point, was logistics and customer density to support the operations.  Working with the World Bank thanks to Margaret Clark and Nino Fleri, the Willard InterContinental thanks to Herve Houdre, the University of Maryland College park (thanks to an entire team there), and Whole Foods Market, we were able to launch a full scale food waste recycling service in February of 2006, using custom designed equipment built to handle more food waste than traditional trash collection equipment at a lower operating expense and at barely half the capital cost of traditional waste equipment. New Earth Services went out of business due to flooding and inadequate pollution control measures, and worked closely with Chesterfield Farms in Crofton, MD helping them to get into the organics recycling business.  Soon, businesses across the Washington metropolitan region were working with us to recycle their food wastes.


All seemed to be headed in the right direction, until Chesterfield Farms made site modifications that caused crippling flooding on their site. They were unable to manage their piles which, soaking wet, turned anaerobic and began to release odors and polluting methane gases.  Chesterfield Farms was forced to stop accepting food wastes for over a month, and many composting customers lost confidence in the system.


Since then, we have opened and closed operations in Philadelphia and Atlanta and seen over 10 composting facilities fail due to pollution controls and regulatory compliance shortcomings, most notably Chesterfield Farms, Recycled Green Industries, Two Particular Acres, Greenco Environmental, Chesapeake Compost Works, and the Wilmington Organics Recycling Center.  Today, we offer a stable food waste recycling service, working with a government operated composting facility in Maryland, and continue to invest in innovations around composting to ensure stable, reliable composting solutions are available to the businesses that rely on us.

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