By Jill Draper
When lunchtime comes at Catalent Pharma Solutions in Grandview, employees are encouraged to dump their food scraps and paper napkins into a large orange container for pickup by KC Can Compost.
“It gives our teams a great way to get involved in our sustainability efforts,” says Christin Parker, environmental, health and safety manager. The company later buys back compost for their onsite Harvesters community garden.
Employees at Barkley, a downtown advertising agency, go a step further by signing up for a KC Can 5-gallon bucket (dubbed a “Mini”) or a 1.5-gallon countertop container (“Itty Bitty”). They take home the containers and return them filled with food waste and soiled paper towels, emptying the contents into a bin at the office. Biodegradable liners are used, so there’s no mess or odor.
Food composting services are a growing trend. Throughout Kansas City they’re being offered to individual residents as well as businesses, schools, restaurants and churches as a way to reduce garbage and help the environment. When trucked to the landfill, food waste produces methane—one of the worst greenhouse gases for the Earth. But when trucked to composting sites, it becomes rich soil.
In addition to KC Can Compost, two other services that pick up food waste in the area are Compost Collective KC and Missouri Organics. A fourth service, Food Cycle KC, operates only in Kansas.
KC Can Compost launched in 2019 with a double mission: keep food out of the waste stream and train people transitioning out of homelessness and prison to work in environmental jobs such as solid waste management. Kristan Chamberlain, executive director, spent nearly two years researching the concept.
Among the organization’s first clients were KC Rescue Mission and City Union Mission (both receive many food donations that can’t be used), the Nelson Atkins Art Museum, a Starbucks near Rockhurst High, a Montessori school and John Knox Village. Now they pick up at 145 locations, with inquiries coming in daily. Unity Village and Crows Coffee shops are interested, and the Hickman Mills School District has a pending contract.
“It’s starting to move,” says Chamberlain, who notes a recent uptick in calls from churches. “A lot are reaching out to us because they’re making climate and environmental stewardship their priority this year.”
After a pandemic-related pause, KC Can’s job program also is gearing back up. Called Green Core Training, it allows individuals with barriers to employment to explore environmental jobs during four to six “pretty intensive” weeks, Chamberlain says.
Chamberlain, who lives in Waldo, says her organization does not provide curbside pickup, but individuals can pay a monthly fee of $13 to drop off their compostable waste (fruit, vegetables, meat, bones, dairy, paper, flowers and plants) at several spots, including the Soap Refill Station at 7441 Broadway Blvd.
Suburban Lawn & Garden is a drop-off spot for another program, Compost Collective KC. Participants can swap a bucket filled with food scraps for a clean bucket on their own schedule. Each swap is $8.
“We just had our 1,600th drop-off since we started in April 2021 at all three Suburban locations,” says Matt Stueck, vice president. “It obviously benefits the Earth, but I like to tell people you’re making your garage smell better even if you don’t care about doing what’s ecologically sound.” Stueck points out that Suburban’s rewards program (10% back) makes every 11th bucket swap free.
Compost Collective also provides curbside pickup of food waste for 1,700 customers for a monthly or bi-monthly fee in partnership with Urbavore Urban Farm, where most of the waste is composted. In addition, the farm accepts drop-offs of food, grass clippings and leaves at no charge at its 5500 Bennington Ave. location near Raytown.
The largest amount of food composting by far happens at Missouri Organics Recycling, which contracts with other compost companies plus many direct clients. Their list includes Barstow School, Waldo Pizza, Rockhurst High, Burns & McDonnell, Cerner, The Chive and Martin City Coffee. Missouri Organics diverts more than 16,000 tons of food waste from Kansas City’s landfill every year, says their website.
According to Chamberlain, the various local food composting businesses work well alongside each other because, “We all have the same vision and hope, and we’re all partnering for the greener good.” Besides, she says, “There’s plenty of food waste to go around.”