GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP, N.J. — A pilot program approved by the Camden County Freeholder Board will change the way food waste is being disposed of in cafeterias and kitchens in county buildings.
Proposals are currently being accepted to find a vendor who will collect food waste generated during meal preparation and transport it to local composting and food recycling sites.
Mass production kitchens, like the ones at Camden County College and the Camden County Correctional Facility, produce thousands of pounds of food waste during preparation. However, the skin of potatoes, peels of bananas, and other excess organic materials currently being carted away to the incinerator or landfill along with the rest of Camden County’s trash, can be recycled and reused just like paper and plastics.
The pilot program is one more way the Freeholder Board hopes to lessen the environmental impact of facilities owned and operated by the county.
“We’re looking at thousands of pounds of organic material that has an environmentally-friendly, cost-effective use, and we are currently throwing it away with all of our other trash,” Freeholder Jonathan Young, liaison to the Camden County Office of Sustainability, said in a press release. “By reducing the tonnage we’re sending to the incinerator we can save the taxpayer money, while also taking the county one-step further towards environmental sustainability.”
To implement the program, the county is looking for a vendor to supply 55-gallon bins that can store food waste generated in kitchens at county facilities. That vendor will then collect the recyclable material and deliver it to sites where it can be reused as animal feed or recycled via composting or anaerobic digestion.
Composting involves mixing food waste with browns like leaves and dirt to create a nutrient rich soil conditioner. Once the organic material has broken down, the mixture can be combined with soil used to grow plants, fruits, and vegetables.
Alternatively, anaerobic digestion uses microorganisms to break down the food waste, which then releases methane. This methane can be converted into usable gas which generates electricity, heat, or other fuels.
Collected materials for the pilot program are to come solely from kitchen preparation, where the majority of waste is generated. Cooked ingredients and food that has been handled by customers or patrons will continue to be thrown in the trash to avoid contamination.
“The United States generates more than 100 billion pounds of mostly edible food waste each year,” Young said. “If we can find a way to reduce our contribution to that total, while also saving the taxpayer money and reducing the amount of material entering our waste stream, then we are going to pursue it.”
Bids for the program is currently open. The chosen vendor will be awarded a one-year contract for food waste collection services, with the opportunity to renew the program twice.
The program will be administered by Camden County’s Office of Sustainability, the first-of-its-kind in New Jersey, which also runs several county-wide sustainability programs and initiatives and serves as a central hub for all of the county’s 37 municipalities. The office runs the Hydroponic Greenhouse Program, started in 2016, which grows fruits and vegetables year-round to use in lunches for senior programs and to generate revenue by partnering with local restaurants.