Horry County Solid Waste Authority is exploring the idea of food composting as a way to free up more space in the landfill and add more value to its compost.
It would be the second county in the state, behind Charleston County, to compost food at its public facility.
Danny Knight, executive director for the Solid Waste Authority, said he and some of the authority’s board members visited Charleston County to view the process. He said one of the first steps, if the authority’s board decides to move ahead with the project, would be to revise its permits with the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“It’s a definite possibility,” Knight said of starting the pilot program. “After going to Charleston, it’s not as technical as we first thought. They mixed it right in with their grinding of lawn materials, grass clippings and tree limbs that are ground up.”
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Knight was referring to Charleston County, which began composting food in 2011.
The Charleston County Environmental Management Department serves 27 elementary schools, three middle schools, local restaurants and grocery stores. The department uses a three-way sort collection station with three separate containers marked for food waste, recyclable items, and trash, according to the department.
Bronwyn Santos, Greening Schools representative for Charleston County Environmental Management, said the program has been growing each year in Charleston County.
“Of course there’s the environmental incentive to compost, to keep it out of the landfill and turn it into great compost,” Santos said. “But, also money talks. If you can reduce budgets and make things run a little more smoothly, then that speaks volumes.”
Santos said by sorting the food from recyclables and garbage, the schools and businesses in Charleston County have seen smaller loads of garbage and a reduction in the number of trips by garbage haulers, which creates a savings for the schools and the businesses.
“One of the ways that we could get the restaurants to try to use the program is the user fee,” Santos said. “... If you can get the dumpster fee reduced by reducing the number of days you have pick up by two or three days, that’s where the money starts talking.”
Knight said if everything moves smoothly, he anticipates the program being implemented as early as spring. He said the strategy would be to work with elementary schools first because fourth-grade classes already participate in the Talkin’ Trash program.
“We’re hoping that we can get the schools involved with it upfront,” Knight said. “We’re already doing recycling with them. We think that will jump start the program, and then we’ll look at some type of incentive for restaurants.”
It was unclear whether Horry County Schools would participate in the program. Laura Farmer, director of food services for Horry County Schools, was not available for comment Wednesday.
Knight said he knows convincing restaurants and grocery stores who sell prepared food may be a bit of a challenge.
“We found that any change is a pain,” Knight said referring to the authority’s attempt at getting businesses in North Myrtle Beach to recycle bottles and glass. Many business owners did not want to participate. “Our group will work with anybody who wants to be involved.”
Stephen Greene, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association, could not be reached by email or phone Tuesday or Wednesday.
Knight said there are some details that need to be worked out, including finding money in next year’s budget to include an employee and crafting an incentive to get businesses involved.
“The biggest expense that I see is adding one employee to manage the whole program. We don’t see it being a lot of cost right now,” Knight said. “People are used to the incentive. It’s just the idea of we have to encourage the operators and restaurant owners to take part.”