Jul 31, 2020
Zero Waste Farms: The Next Step For Sustainable Agriculture
The United States throws away about 80 billion pounds of its food annually, which is almost 40% of the total supply. That’s about 219 pounds per person and more than $160 billion worth that is sent to landfills each year. Food is abundant and affordable and composting is not something that is commonplace in the U.S., which has created a perfect storm of never-ending waste.
Farms and agricultural facilities are natural candidates for zero waste because the majority of their product is of an organic nature and they typically have the capability to harness one of the best zero waste strategies available and use it on-site – composting!
Compost is used as a valuable soil amendment for growing plants, but creating this beneficial material keeps hundreds of thousands of pounds of organic material out of landfills and can also save facilities money by reducing their hauler fees.
Farms also have an opportunity to create relationships with haulers and facilities by providing compost processing and even distribution. This can be a great way for farms to act as partners to facilities that want to become certified by providing an opportunity for them to divert their organic material from a landfill. McEnroe Farms, in upstate New York, supports many businesses in the New York metropolitan region by accepting their food scraps, processing into organics, and then using that compost on-site while also selling back to the community. This has become both an innovative method to generate a new product offering and a way for McEnroe to differentiate themselves in the market.
With increasing numbers of companies setting zero waste goals and targets, third-party verification and certification is more important than ever to maintain integrity and clarity surrounding the goal of achieving zero waste. GBCI, the global certification body for LEED, the most widely used green building rating system in the world, also administers a zero waste certification program designed to accommodate all types of facilities.
TRUE, or Total Resource Use and Efficiency, helps businesses and facilities improve their bottom line while reducing waste by focusing on upstream initiatives. The program is driven by a points-based rating system that is intended to provide a pathway to achieving the goal of zero waste. A number of farms and wineries have chosen to pursue TRUE certification to help them achieve their zero waste goals, and these unique projects have earned recognition for their efforts.
Taylor Farms in Gonzales, CA is a great example of a zero-waste certified agricultural facility. They achieved a 94% waste diversion rate and TRUE Platinum certification for their 192,000 square feet facility. They launched their Zero Waste Program in April 2017, and by working with TRUE, were able to decrease landfill contribution by 56%, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 109,552 CO2e, equivalent to taking 23,064 cars off the road annually.
TRUE places its emphasis on upstream initiatives including reduction and reuse, and so the Gonzales Green Team and employees worked together to reduce incoming materials, reuse existing materials when possible, and recycle what remained throughout the facility. A key element focused on eliminating wax cartons from the supply chain. Led by the raw product procurement team, the group worked with Taylor Farms’ growing partners to transition to 100% reusable bins and totes, eliminating all single-use and wax cartons.
To complete this project, Taylor Farms partnered with Measure to Improve (MTI), a California based organization that specializes in helping growers, shippers, packers, and processors measure, improve and promote sustainability efforts. Throughout the implementation, MTI provided onsite support, training, and data tracking to optimize efficiency.
"The TRUE certification program helps facilities quantify their performance and find additional ways to improve their waste management both inside and outside of their four walls of operations," says Nicole Flewell, Director of Sustainability at Taylor Farms.
With companies and brands needing to stay affordable and marketable in today’s economy, finding opportunities to achieve environmental goals while saving money is a great way for farms to stay competitive. From standard operations to indoor hydroponic and aquaponic operations, zero waste certification and efforts can provide valuable resource management to the already invaluable work done by farmers and processors.
About the Author: Celeste McMickle is the Director of Client Solutions for TRUE Zero Waste certification with the USGBC. Celeste is trained as an architect and has a background as a sustainability consultant, LEED Green rater and waste expert. She has previously worked with Steven Winter Associates, DSNY, and the New York city Compost Project. She is the vice-chair of the Brooklyn Solid Waste Advisory Board and is a certified permaculture designer and master composter.