Continuing in our sustainabilty series, this week we explore diverting food for composting and what it could bring to the table for your restaurant.

Once all appropriate food has been donated, a food-generating facility can set aside food wastes for compost. 

The Value of Composting 

  • Compost saves water needed to grow food 
  • Reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides 
  • Promotes a healthy agricultural system 
  • Closes the circle: uses food waste to create nutrient-rich soil amendments, which in turn grow healthy food 
  • Reduces methane and leachate formation in landfills.

Working with a Local Compost Collection Service 

As of 2014, there were only two food waste collection service providers in the state: one located in Albuquerque and the other in Santa Fe. These businesses can advise on food waste collection best practices and help assess how many containers and what number of pick-ups will be right for the amount of materials generated. Generally, 64-gallon wheeled and covered collection containers are provided as part of the service. 

The Grove Cafe and Market Case Study

 Jason Greene, owner and chef of NMRA member restaurant, The Grove Cafe and Market in Albuquerque, has set the standard at his restaurant to recycle and compost everything possible. Jason explained that setting aside food waste was part of his training in culinary school in Vermont and he believes in the value of supporting healthy soils with the compost made from food waste. The Grove has reduced trash pick-ups and hopes to continue reducing his landfilled materials. The restaurant recycles cardboard, glass, plastics and paper. All service ware is made from certified biodegradable materials and can be placed in the compost collection containers. Soiled paper and waxed cardboard is added to the mix. Small five-gallon buckets are placed conveniently throughout the prep areas and at the dishwasher station. Once full or at the end of the day, the five-gallon buckets are emptied to the outside 64-gallon covered compost collection totes. Staff is trained that this is the culture of working at The Grove. In order to minimize odor and fly issues, the garbage and compost collection areas outside are regularly power washed and fly traps are in place. The only items left in the trash are plastic wrap, lids from cups, plastic food packaging and plastic from shipping containers. Jason is happy to speak with any restaurant interested in starting a food waste for composting program: or 505-248-9800 

Closed Loop: From Food Waste to Compost to Food Again at a Local Farm/Restaurant 

NMRA member restaurant, Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque sits on land in a bucolic cottonwood-tree setting. The historic inn and farm runs a multi-faceted business as a resort, restaurant, special events location and working fields to grow lavender and farm-to-table produce. Nancy Kinyanjui, Director of Hospitality and Sustainability, explains that managing food waste and other green initiatives has generally been easy, but has just taken a little creativity. The restaurant and special events kitchen separates food items for compost at prep and dishwashing stations. From there staff deliver the materials to their own compost piles. In the composting area, the piles are managed by adding new compost to active ones. They allow the others to mature into a rich soil amendment that will be used in their robust kitchen garden. This closed loop represents the true potential where the food waste becomes an enrichment to the next round of food grown onsite. In the kitchen, there are two diversion pails being used: one for the food waste compost pile and the other for vegetable trimmings that become a rich soup stock. Other source reduction tactics include making jams and jellies from bruised fruits and working with restaurant customers to reduce and limit their meal portions when they order. 

Hauling Food Waste To A Composter 

There is an option to haul food waste to a commercial composting facility in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Observing best practices for onsite collections and using appropriate containers to retain all liquids and materials will still be necessary. Work with the local composter to establish the “tipping” or disposal fees and assess the materials accepted so the material can be properly managed. 

Business Opportunity: As of the date of this report, there are currently only two food waste collection businesses operating in New Mexico. An opportunity lies in the launch of more food waste collection businesses and food waste composting throughout the state. 

How Food Waste Composting Works 

Composting occurs when brown (woody) and green (food waste, lawn clippings) organic materials are brought together and, with the right combination of naturally-occurring bacteria and moisture break down the material components to create a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Active composting is required to manage food waste so that the material quickly decomposes. There are two types of composting used to manage food waste: large-scale and smaller, farm-style composting. 

Large-Scale Composting A commercial-scale composting facility is able to manage a wide array of food items, including meats, as well as paper products and waxed cardboard because the facility actively manages the compost piles with regular watering and turning of material. If the composter is accepting materials from the public, the facility must be registered with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). 

Smaller, Farm-Style Composting Smaller scale composting, such as typically occurs at local farms, uses small amounts of food waste material. These piles are mixed with woody materials and are occasionally turned or managed to keep the compost process active. In most cases, materials such as cardboard, compostable serviceware, meats and bones are not suitable under these conditions. If a farm is managing its own materials generated on-site, the composting operation does not need to register with the NMED. If the farm is accepting food waste or woody material from outside services or a variety of restaurants that it sells produce to, that farm would need to register with NMED as a composting facility. 

Food Waste Collection Services