OSI Headquarters Pilots New Composting Program for Food Waste
Giant composting bins have become a familiar site at OSI's corporate headquarters in the U.S. city of Aurora, Illinois. The 50-pound-capacity containers are part of a new initiative to turn cafeteria waste into nutrient-rich soil, and part of OSI’s ongoing commitment to conservation and reducing our environmental impact.
The idea for the composting project came from the OSI Culinary team, who began talking about opportunities to address food waste last year as part of OSI’s sustainability mission. When safety measures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic created a sudden increase in lunch waste at OSI’s corporate headquarters, they saw the urgency in setting up a composting program.
Before the pandemic, corporate headquarters had a strong tradition of self-serve group lunches in the cafeteria.
“Everyone used to come to the cafe kitchen and pick up a plate and we'd all eat together. Then we'd wash our plates after use,” explains Elisa Kim, a Rotational Management Trainee currently working with the Sustainability Team. “But because of the pandemic, lunch had to be restructured and everyone had to use single-use takeout containers to bring the food to their offices or cubicles.”
This small change for employee safety created significant changes to the OSI Café experience and an immediate increase in cafeteria packaging. To reduce that environmental impact, chefs from OSI's Culinary Team got together with members of the company's Sustainability, Environmental and Maintenance teams to begin work on a composting program. The cross-functional team consulted with composting partners for guidance on what sort of materials they would accept. The team then used that information to source packaging that met composting requirements, select composting containers for OSI headquarters, and ultimately design and roll out the program.
EXPANDING FROM LUNCH CONTAINERS TO FOOD WASTE
“The target of the initiative was reducing the environmental impact of the lunch containers, but since then we have been able to expand beyond packaging to make sure we’re also addressing food waste,” says Kim, who along with OSI Culinary Manager Max Fluck is responsible for tracking data for the composting initiative.
The expansion to food waste came early at the recommendation of OSI's composting partner, which noted the important role different types of waste play in breaking down paper packaging.
"Most facilities don’t accept containers alone, because they don’t break down as readily if there isn’t compost around them," Fluck explains. "The food that we are sending to the compost is helping balance the amount of containers that we are producing. From the end of July through October, we have been able to divert over 6,000 lbs. from landfill to compost."
That figure includes waste from the entire OSI corporate office, including the Culinary Innovation Center and Product Presentation Kitchens, which began participating in the composting program shortly after implementation. This data serves a dual purpose: It helps track progress to see where improvements can be made, and also builds excitement around participation. “It’s about showing our colleagues that what we are doing is having an impact,” says Kim. “By telling participants that our waste is being converted to compost, we can show them that their participation in proper disposal is really helpful.”
Employees at OSI headquarters can compost their single-use container and food waste in bins stationed on each floor. Staff in the Culinary Innovation Center and Product Presentation Kitchens, meanwhile, have their own composting procedures. Maintenance crews collect contents from the building daily and turn them over to OSI's composting partner that converts the material into soil.
This initiative follows the path of landfill reduction activities taking place in OSI’s facilities across the globe.
SHINING A SPOTLIGHT ON OUR INNOVATION AND TEAMWORK
The composting initiative is part of OSI’s long-term commitment to sustainability, and one of many concrete steps we are taking to curb our environmental impacts and be good neighbors to our community.
It also aligns with our corporate values to explore innovative solutions, work together as a team and seek partnering relationships. We've been leaning on these values in particular amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought challenges, but also given us opportunities to showcase our innovation. We're proud to have honored our 2020 commitment to interns and trainees, for example, by implementing new safety measures. And across OSI, we're encouraged by ongoing progress we see toward our 2025 Sustainability Targets, which include, among many other ambitious goals, making our facilities landfill-free.
Diverting waste that would otherwise be sent to a landfill is not only good for our environment and reduces pollution; it also saves natural resources and raw materials that can be used for other purposes.
Kim and her colleagues have been tracking the composting initiative results for three months now, and have “seen a lot of improvement as total waste has also decreased.”
She and colleagues are already thinking ahead to the time when COVID restrictions are relaxed, and more people return to the office, eat in the cafeteria and try product innovations from OSI kitchens. "This will produce an increased amount of food waste," Fluck says. But the team already has its sights set on managing the uptick in waste: “There are still opportunities to cut back waste at every step of our process: purchasing, portion control, and donations of safe surplus foods to our communities,” he says.
“We really just thought this was a solution to the cafeteria single-use containers," Kim notes. “The coolest thing is that this became a lot bigger than we anticipated at first."