Atlanta, GA – The staff at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) had every right to feel proud on Earth Day on April 22 because their participation in an ambitious zero waste recycling program has been literally giving back to Mother Earth in the form of food waste that is composted into soil.
As a charter member of the Downtown Zero Waste Zone in downtown Atlanta, the GWCC kitchen and concessions staff has taken to routinely sending thousands of pounds of leftover food to a composting facility, where it is recycled into planting soil rather than consigned to a landfill.
“Our goal is to adopt practices that meet the demands of our customers, attendees and staff,” said Kevin Duvall, assistant general manager of the GWCC. “At the same time, we want to reduce the impact that our facility has on the landfill.”
Like many convention centers, the GWCC has been collecting cardboard as well as paper and glass, aluminum and plastic containers for some time now. During a four-month period from October 2008 through February 2009, more than 27,600 pounds of waste material was sent to the recycler. Collections are made simpler with a single-stream recycling process that allows all recyclable materials to be tossed into the same container instead of requiring folks to consistently drop items into the correct bin.
A further leap forward in the journey toward green events has been a composting program that diverts unused food, biodegradable plates and other serving items that are used by concessionaire Levy Restaurants and made of materials that gradually break down into soil. Christy Petterson, public relations specialist for the GWCC and a leader of the center’s Green Team, tallied more than three tons of food waste trucked off by a recycling contractor in a matter of weeks. The actual composting is performed at an Atlanta-area farm and the material is bagged and sold as planting soil by the Whole Foods supermarket chain.
In fact, the GWCC’s participation in the Zero Waste initiative, which was organized by state and Federal environmental agencies, was announced at Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) MeetDifferent February 7-10. During that event alone, the recycling contractor, EnviRelation, LLC, hauled off 1,575 pounds of compost material plus another 2,400 pounds of recyclables.
“We have 35 containers that are placed in strategic back-of-the-house areas, in kitchens and behind concession stands, for example, and Levy’s staff has been trained to utilize the containers,” Petterson said. “Containers are stored on one dock and EnviRelation comes to pick them up every other day or as needed.”
From a public relations standpoint, the aggressive composting program could not have come at a better time for the GWCC. Along with an already high level of public interest in organic food, more Americans are taking up gardening as both a hobby and way to stretch their food budget. First Lady Michelle Obama made headlines in starting a vegetable patch at the White House. The National Gardening Association projected 43 million U.S. households would have a food garden in 2009, a 19% increase over 2008.
And the entire Zero Waste Zone has placed the GWCC on the green fast track because the initiatives are adopted not only by the convention center but the restaurants and hotels in the neighborhood as well. “The Downtown Zero Waste Zone reinforces a lot of initiatives that we were already tackling and is propelling us forward on new ones,” said Duvall.