Nearly 42 percent of Capitol cafeteria trash could be composted

Jan. 16 audit done by students yielded 285 pounds of garbage

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Food waste and other compostable material made up nearly 42 percent of the garbage by weight at the State Capitol cafeteria in Des Moines during a recent waste audit done by Iowa City students.

The Jan. 16 audit done by students from Northwest Junior High, South East Junior High and Borlaug Elementary, in conjunction with the Iowa Waste Exchange, yielded 285 pounds of garbage from the Capitol cafeterias, operated by Treat America Food Services.

Nonrecyclables – or actual garbage – made up the largest share of waste with 42.1 percent by weight, but compostables were right behind with 41.75 percent. Compostables include food, paper towels and paper dining products.

Plastics made up about 8 percent of the waste and Styrofoam containers were 3.7 percent. There were very small amounts of glass, metals and paper, the group reported.

“They currently have recycling places,” said Ethan Trepka, a seventh grader at Northwest. “They could add one for compost. It would be pretty easy.”

Dave Correy, food service director, said Treat America has changed practices following previous waste audits. They got rid of Styrofoam plates and now serve food on china and tried to get diners to use reusable glasses.

Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, said the audit was a good way to show lawmakers how much recyclable product can be diverted from the waste stream. Food waste makes up about 14 percent of Iowa’s landfills, where it generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

“I am hoping that the students will come back to the Capitol and give us a report and recommendations, perhaps to a subcommittee meeting on a bill I am working on related to product stewardship,” Isenhart said. “If we get the right group of people around the table, we can see what is feasible.”

Isenhart, ranking member of the Environmental Protection Committee, is pushing for legislation that would reclassify food waste as yard waste so cities could pick it up at the curb. Dubuque and Cedar Rapids are among just a few communities that provide curbside pickup of food scraps.

The student group, called Chasing Methane, would like the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to study ways to make it easier for restaurants to compost food.

More than three-quarters of the garbage at two Iowa City-area restaurants was food waste during recent audits conducted by the students. Carlos O’Kelly’s trash was about 80 percent compostable material and Applebee’s trash was 76 percent compostable.

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