Phil Rogers dumps a bin of glass recycling into his Ripple Glass trailer at The Guild in Kansas City, Missouri, on June 7, 2021. (Photo by Chase Castor/The Beacon)

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Marcus Locke, executive chef at American Dining Creations at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, was one of the earliest adopters of KC Can Compost about 2 1/2 years ago.

“It felt right in line with what we do here at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, as far as cutting down on our carbon footprint,” he said.

Composting fits easily within American Dining Creation’s workflow. Instead of throwing away scraps after prepping food, it tosses them in the orange compost bin lined with compostable bags. Once a week, KC Can Compost picks up the waste.

“Their biggest motto is if it comes from the earth, it can go back in the earth,” Locke said. “It’s pretty simple.”

The composting service also saves the Nelson-Atkins money, because over 1,200 pounds of food waste are no longer going through normal waste disposal. Locke estimates that it cut down the museum’s waste bill dramatically, by about 30% to 40%.

That’s the kind of sustainability success story that a network of Kansas City organizations works to support. Organizations like Bridging the Gap provide consultations for businesses and help connect them to recycling services like KC Can Compost or Ripple Glass.

The Nelson-Atkins also has a contract with Ripple Glass.

“It’s pretty much hand in hand with KC Compost as far as the ease of it,” Locke said. “It’s nice to be able to throw that stuff into a bin and they pick it up, and we don’t have to worry about it.”

It’s a chef’s duty to help with sustainability, Locke said.

“With the way overpopulation is going right now and greenhouse gases and all of these things, I don’t see how you couldn’t want to,” he said.

How to start sustainable waste management at your Kansas City business

For many businesses, the first step in waste mitigation is contacting Bridging the Gap, a Kansas City nonprofit that can help connect them to the right services.

“A lot of businesses reaching out to Bridging the Gap have no recycling currently, so they’re trying to go from trash pickups only to glass recycling, cardboard, aluminum, compost, and really hit their sustainability goals,” said Piercyn Charbonneau, a program manager with Ripple Glass. 

Getting connected is easy, said Eric Hemphill, solid waste program manager with Bridging the Gap. Interested business owners can visit the website to start a self assessment about their current waste management.

Bridging the Gap staff meets with businesses to evaluate their current practices and challenges in waste management. After doing an audit, Bridging the Gap makes recommendations on how businesses can become more sustainable by recycling materials like plastic, paper, cardboard, electronics, food waste and glass.

“We don’t help just businesses,” Hemphill said. “It’s nonprofits, schools, multifamily housing developments. So if you don’t consider yourself a business, that’s OK, we’ll see if we can help you.”

For KC Can Compost, Bridging the Gap is a great connector, said Executive Director Kristan Chamberlain. 

“As businesses express interest in something like glass recycling, which is a little more well-known, Bridging the Gap comes in and talks about how food waste is really a priority for us, for environmental purposes,” Chamberlain explained.

Bridging the Gap looks beyond recycling to consider how companies can reduce and reuse waste as well, Hemphill said.

“Really expanding that definition of recyclability is kind of my philosophy for working on this program.”

Glass recycling in the purple bin

Since Ripple Glass started collecting glass from businesses in the Kansas City area in April 2018, it has diverted almost 5 million pounds of glass from landfills. Ripple Glass began in 2009 by processing glass just from Boulevard Brewing; it now serves nine states.

Glass that otherwise would sit in a landfill is recycled into either bottles or fiberglass insulation through a process involving hand sorting, optical sources, magnets, heaters and dryers.

Phil Rogers dumps a bin of glass recycling into his Ripple Glass trailer at The Guild in Kansas City, Missouri, on June 7, 2021. (Photo by Chase Castor/The Beacon)

Recycling glass can save businesses money on waste costs, Charbonneau said.

“We were working with an account who was getting trash pickups five times a week, paying thousands a month to their trash haulers,” he said. “When they started recycling, they dropped pickups to two times a week and saved many hundreds a month.”

Right now, Ripple Glass works with about 300 businesses in the Kansas City metro area. Charbonneau estimates that’s only about 5% of businesses that have liquor licenses or produce glass waste. 

Ripple Glass’ goal is to increase participation in the program. As the density of their pickup routes increases, the costs will be lower and make the program accessible to even more businesses. Right now, its site says plans for businesses start as low as $25 a month.

“Our goal at the end of the day is to make the program something every business can afford, make the program something that is able to save every business money on their waste costs,” Charbonneau said.

Composting in the orange bin

Unsure if you can compost something? The answer is probably.

According to KC Can Compost, the average Kansas City resident produces 102 tons of garbage in a lifetime, up to 60% of which could be composted to create soil instead.

It collects a hodgepodge of items from local businesses to compost, such as dog hair, school lunches, meat, dairy, bones, shells, paper products and flower waste. The waste goes to Missouri Organic Recycling, where it gets turned into compost.

Composting waste instead of sending it to a landfill prevents the creation of methane, a strong greenhouse gas.

Ripple glass and KC Can Compost bins sit next to the recycling dumpsters at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Chase Castor/The Beacon).

“If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world,” said Chamberlain with KC Can Compost.

Compost can also help prevent desertification by drawing down carbon and water into the soil, helping plants grow and adding nutrients to food while decreasing the need for chemical fertilizers.

KC Can Compost notes it has diverted a total of over a million pounds of waste in two years of operating. It has developed a protocol for businesses to use that is implementable within a week and smell-free. 

“Cleanliness and easiness are the main things,” Chamberlain said. “We really take the guesswork out and manage the whole thing for employers so they don’t have to do it.”

KC Can Compost keeps track of the impact that each business participating in its program has. For example, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has diverted food waste equal to taking 86 midsize cars off the road, said Chamberlain.

“We have to start taking our environmental behavior more seriously because it is going to impact poor communities disproportionately,” she said. “Composting and recycling, whether people realize it or not, it all impacts our neighbors.”

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Brittany Callan covered health and environment at The Beacon, and was a Report for America corps member for 2020-2021. Funding for this reporting was provided in part by the Health Forward Foundation.