By composting, Orange County residents and businesses successfully diverted over 946,000 pounds of trash from local landfills over the last year, according to the county’s compost report published in October.
Orange County's commercial food waste collection program includes five drop-off sites and is offered at no cost to businesses and restaurants. About 50 businesses use the program, including restaurants, flower shops and cafes.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, who is on the Solid Waste Advisory Group for Orange County, said the program started small but has grown significantly.
“It was grocery stores at first, and they kind of took it upon themselves to continue on because they realized it wasn’t that big a deal for them to sort it that way," she said. "And they saved money from hauling the garbage off, so it actually saved them some money just to get in the habit."
The Purple Bowl, an eatery on Franklin Street, is one business that uses compostable products for its takeout containers.
“When you produce a lot of trash, you choose to help with that when you use compostable packaging," Sabine Farer-Buers, general manager of The Purple Bowl, said. "Especially during COVID, takeout has gotten so much bigger. Even though it’s more expensive for us, it’s better for the environment.”
Farer-Buers said The Purple Bowl is trying to use compostable products, but not all of their current takeout containers are compostable due to shortages caused by COVID-19.
Kyra Levau, the recycling education and outreach coordinator for Orange County's Solid Waste Management Department, said the program has been effective and continues to grow. She said the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market and the Eno River Farmers’ Market have recently added free food waste collection sites, joining the existing site at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.
“Since (their) inception in late April and early May, those have picked up in popularity and gotten more tonnage every week,” Levau said.
CompostMates at Carolina, a student organization at UNC, has helped off-campus students get involved with composting.
The organization aims to provide a free pickup service for food scraps to off-campus students and other individuals who lack easy access to composting. It donates to three community gardens.
Several students co-founded CompostMates, including senior Caroline Shubel, a co-director of the organization.
“I think what motivated me to see the idea through was thinking about the climate crisis," Shubel said. "And I was working at a daycare at the time and thinking of 4- and 5-year-olds who have no idea the world that they’re going to grow up in and how it just keeps getting worse, and that motivated me to kind of see this project come to light."
Sophomore Simone McFarlane is the sustainability chairperson of CompostMates.
"This is (something) that everyone has the capacity to do," McFarlane said. "And if they don’t have the capacity to do it, that’s why we’re here to facilitate that process and make it easier."
McFarlane said she also hopes people in the broader Orange County community will get more involved with composting.
“The more that people compost, the more normal it becomes, the more that we have an impetus to create waste management policies that are more reflective of these values of respecting our environment and respecting the people that live within,” McFarlane said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.