Could small business innovation lead America's next green revolution? It seems highly likely looking at Jerame Gray's consulting business, Earthscraps, started in 2009 in Kansas City. Earthscraps is a creative, entrepreneurial answer to one of the biggest business waste problems — food waste.
Earthscraps delivers solutions to clients to divert all their food waste from landfills to compost facilities, thereby eliminating the environmental and nuisance problems often associated with food waste disposal.
When working with businesses, Gray observes that reducing waste is usually a logistical issue.
"Getting a restaurant to compost its food can be as simple as changing the flow patterns in the kitchen — the movement of the staff. When no one has to think about where they have to go to dump the food it becomes easier, and then a restaurant can begin separating all of its food waste to be composted," he says.
Gray has seen firsthand how food waste accumulates.
"I worked in the restaurant business for 15 years and I've seen a lot of waste go through. I had a focus on waste management when I studied urban planning at UMKC and I started looking at the restaurant industry in a different way. When the bottom fell out of the economy I decided to start Earthscraps. It was time to help these businesses save some money and reduce their environmental impact," he reflects.
Food waste has a real impact on the environment. According to the EPA's WasteWise Program, it is the third largest waste stream in the United States (after paper and yard waste). In 2008, 32 million tons of food waste was generated. Of that, 31 million tons (97 percent) was thrown away into landfills or incinerators. Not only does food waste take up excessive landfill space but it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
The success of composting programs depends on the quality of received materials. Gray collaborates with the composting business, Missouri Organics, and its FRED (Food Residuals Environmental Division) Project. Gray offers FRED customers the training and education to integrate food waste separation into daily operations.
"I go on the routes with the drivers who pick up the compost. I evaluate each account and I can tell if its waste is contaminated with plastic or other material." says Gray.
He then offers his services to the businesses that need help cleaning up their waste stream. So far he has worked with institutional food services at UMKC and the Jackson County jail, as well as schools, numerous restaurants and other small businesses.
Gray thinks that more policies need to be put in place to make composting a regular part of waste reduction for businesses and households.
"Companies and communities don't understand the huge future cost benefits of implementing recycling and composting. San Francisco's composting policy has already resulted in lots of savings," he notes.
According to the SFenvironment website, San Francisco has been diverting 77 percent of its waste from the landfill since it implemented a citywide composting policy in 2009. The city provides three color-coded waste bins to households and businesses: blue for recyclables, green for compostables, and black for trash. Everyday more than 400 tons of food scraps are sent to the city's composting facility. It has been so successful that the neighboring cities of Oakland and San Jose are starting their own programs.
Given the cost savings and reduction in greenhouse gasses that food waste composting offers, Gray believes Earthscraps' services could soon be in high demand by Midwestern businesses — especially if local ordinances mandate further separation of waste streams.
Earthscraps also offers clients comprehensive assessments of the sustainability of their practices, looking at everything from food sources and serving ware, to building materials, water and energy use, and chemical products.
"Businesses are going to have to be more conscious, and they are going to be forced to make tough choices. If you just anticipate the changes that could happen, you'll be prepared and you'll know it's just a matter of mediating your responses to channel the best results," says Gray.
Environmentally sustainable business practices sometime require a new perspective.
"It's about growing a consciousness in the business owner — taking on a new business philosophy, and if the owner has a vision, we can sit down and talk about his operation. If he can let go of the reins, I can help him create that vision," says Gray.
Gray also points to the enhanced customer relations that come from greening business operations.
"A person can walk into an establishment and just see that it's changing for the better and even subconsciously feel that the business is evolving," he says. "Above all it's about peace of mind and knowing that you're doing the right thing for the future of your kids and saving local ecology and protecting the ground water."
This story was featured in the March 2011 newsletter
- Leah Christian, Missouri Environmental Assistance Center