COLUMBUS- When it comes to what you throw away, 30 percent is made up of food scraps and yard waste, according to the EPA.
But that trash isn’t really trash. It can actually be reused to become really rich soil.
- Composting enables food waste to be repurposed to improve soils and grow crops
- The Compost Exchange and Innovative Organics Recycling allow food waste to be brought to farmer's markets or picked up cubside
- Composting is catching on with restaurants, big companies. stadiums and universities
The EPA says recycling food waste is growing in popularity, from 1.84 million tons in 2013 to 2.1 million tons in 2015.
Homes, restaurants, large businesses, even universities and stadiums across the country are trying to repurpose these materials.
The movement is being pushed by passionate people like Ray Leard in Columbus. He believes soon enough, composting will be as common as recycling.
"Hey we all drink the same air," he said. "We all drink the same water. This stuff if it goes to the landfill affects that."
"It breaks down, but it breaks down differently in a landfill," Leard tells Spectrum News 1. "So it creates methane, and methane is nasty stuff. It's 24-25 times worse than CO2 for the ozone."
After having success starting a composting company in Athens, Ohio, he's now set his sights on the city of Columbus.
"The landfill took in 150,000 tons, just the Franklin County area, and we diverted only 2,000 tons away from it," he explained regarding 2018. "So a lot of work to do yet."
Leard currently has about 150 curbside customers on his route. He gives the customers a bucket with an easy-to-read-label that specifies what can go in and what cannot.
He says he been able to get thousands of repurposed pickle buckets donated to him by area restaurants. "They can put these buckets in their kitchens and it's odor proof and critter proof."
He also replaces the bagged liner each time. "The bags are really strong, really lightweight. All plant based material."
Part of his initiative is not only trying to reduce food scraps, but perfectly good food that ends up in the trash.
"The average family of four throws away $1,500 of edible food, not banana peels, but edible food that they either over purchased, they didn't store right," he said.
Leard's customers also includes restaurants.
"It's always nice when you do it at home, but restaurants are cranking out such a larger volume of product, it's important for restaurants to take part too," says Seth Wensinger, the general manager of Katzinger's Deli in German Village.
They fill up two garbage containers each week of food scraps.
"Taking care of where we all live, Wensigner said. "Being an example for other restaurants. Reducing waste, reducing emissions."
Even catching on with massive companies and universities in central Ohio.
"Otterbein, Denison, Capitol and OSU," Leard says. "Nationwide, State Farm. A lot of the big corporations have sustainability missions."
Then all that food waste goes to Innovative Organics Recycling.
It's put on a cement floor, covered with a carbon source, "leaves from Bexley, or wood chips from Bexley or Columbus, and then we basically blend the two together."
Leard says after only a few days, everything will start to naturally heat up to about 140 degrees. "Little critters are eating away, causing all that heat."
After a few mixes and about three months total, they can "either sell it as is, as compost, or in our case, we make specialty soils."
Which are then given back to their to compost participants and sold to farmers and gardeners.
"Making it easy, making it simple, making it inexpensive, and we've done all that," Leard told Spectrum News 1. "The hope is zero food waste for Columbus. That's the mission."
To make that mission a reality, he says it begins with education, even down to young elementary school kids.
And he says policy makers need to get on board, like they are in Bexley and even Athens where his former composting company is now run by the solid waste district.