Go Green OC team

Grey Lee, Garvey Heiderman, Patrick Trate, Katie Riley and Alyssa Howard worked the compost pile this week for Go Green OC. 

Volunteer muscle behind Go Green team turns food scraps into rich compost

Ocean City restaurants and other food service businesses continue to abandon the old throw-away model of dealing with food waste and instead are joining the ranks of food waste composters.

“As a country, we waste about 40 percent of our food,” Garvey Heiderman, owner of the Hobbit Restaurant, founder of Ocean Compost LLC and director of compost operations for Go Green OC, said.

In Ocean City, all of that food and other waste goes to Chester, Pennsylvania to be incinerated. But gradually, Ocean Compost and Go Green OC are changing that one restaurant and one mind at a time. 

The two groups are working together to transform Ocean City into the first zero waste resort town in the United States. 

In 2018, they conducted their first compost pilot program with The Hobbit restaurant, collecting nearly 2000 pounds of food waste in four weeks. Heiderman was driven when he realized that 51 percent of his restaurant’s waste was compostable.  

The collection effort has grown exponentially since then.  Last year, 12 restaurants participated, contributing 230,000 pounds of waste. 

This year, nearly 30 restaurants are participating. The program is expected to divert between 500-750,000 pounds of food waste.  

Josh Chamberlain, founder of Go Green OC. “In 2023, we should surpass one million pounds of food waste diverted since the inception of our program in 2018 and grow our zero waste goals in tandem with our local allies.”

This might seem like a lot, but the resort generates about 35,000 tons of single stream waste a year.

One might assume that this is a massive effort, which requires a lot of machinery, staff and resources. But it is actually run with one staff person, one truck, a lot of trash cans, a Bobcat and 15 volunteers. 

The process is pretty simple. Alyssa Howard, the only paid staff person with Ocean Compost, weighs and picks up full trash cans from participating restaurants in the morning and brings them to the farm in Worcester County, where the composting happens. Volunteers meet Howard at the farm to unload the cans, slash open bags and pick out any contaminants such as plastic or rubber gloves. They rinse out the cans, let them air dry and reload the truck for the next pick-up.  

“We are taking the food waste, which is our nitrogen-rich material, and mixing that with the wood chips, which is our carbon-rich material,”  Heiderman said. 

The ratio is three to one, wood chips to food. 

Tree services provide the wood chips for free. Ocean Pines provided leaves last year and Heiderman hopes to get more leaves from the community this year.

“You can compost anything organic, from wood chips, to leaves, to grass to food waste and bio-solids, to me and you. 

“A lot of people have this misconception that it is eggshells and vegetable scraps and coffee grounds and that’s it.”

This year, they have added Higgins Crab House North and South to the list of participating restaurants.

“The barrier to entry to dairy, seafood and meat is doing things on a larger scale and size to achieve a higher temperature range than an at home composter can reach. 

“Once we get to a certain temperature range, everything organic will break down.”

Meat products decompose within a matter of weeks, according to Heiderman.

The compost pile is aerated with a blower that moves air through PVC pipes at its base. Pipes go under the pile to keep the core cool and the top of the pile warm.

It takes about three to four weeks for the active process to be done.  

“When you have good fresh compost, you should get the forest floor scent,” Heiderman said.

Part of what we are trying to do here is to take food waste and yard waste and turn it into a valuable renewable resource that sequesters carbon and helps the waterways, Heiderman said.

“It’s hands on now because we don’t have money for heavy equipment, but we’ll get there.” 

“Our approach is crawl, walk, run.”   

The process is small scale at this point, even with a target of 300 tons of food waste. That is very small compared to industrial facilities that are composting tens or hundreds of thousands of tons.  

“What we are trying to create is a pathway for recycling in Ocean City.”

“What we are doing is changing the thought process of people who are exposed to this and say this is the way things should be done.”  

Heiderman emphasized the fact that this process is taking products that are considered waste, like food and wood chips, that would otherwise go into landfills and release methane and turning it into something good for the environment. 

“The participating restaurants don’t save any money by composting, they simply do it because they believe in it,” he said. 

“The composting agreement doesn’t cost the city any money. It simply redirects payment that would normally go to the incineration company to Ocean Compost for the weight they remove from the waste stream so it is a complete wash financially.” 

“That’s how we [Ocean Compost] derive our revenue,” Heiderman said.

The whole process would not work without the volunteers organized through Go Green OC. 

Patrick Trate is on his second season with Go Green OC. Trate is an Ocean Pines resident and works Monday mornings throughout the season. He found out about the project through the local Sierra Club.  

 “We think this is fabulous and Sierra Club wants to support them any way we can.”

Sierra Club donated funding for trash cans this year.

Grey Lee of West Ocean City knows a couple of restaurants that participate in the program, but never knew there were volunteer opportunities. He found out through the Environmental Students Association at Salisbury University, where he is a sophomore. 

“This is my first day volunteering. I am blown away,” said Lee.

“It’s not just that I want to come out and do some work. It’s the entire city doing meaningful work. It’s small right now, but I can just imagine in the future that this is really going to blow up.”  

He planned to go back to the university and do some recruiting for the project. 

Katie Riley lives in West OC and works at The Hobbit and Our Harvest.  

“I tried to start my own composting and it did not work. So I was looking for a local effort where I could compost,” Riley said.

            “I wanted to give back. It’s really exciting to see my personal household waste turn into compost.” 

Riley has been volunteering for a month but has been composting since last summer. 

Currently, the compost is given away for free because they don’t make enough to start selling it. 

The project has a retired USDA agronomist running a full spectrum research study on the compost in a community garden in Bowie, Maryland. 

They’ve gotten great feedback from everyone who has used it. 

Right now Heiderman and Chamberlain are cherry picking businesses that will produce a product that will reflect what would be produced if all the restaurants in OC were participating. They expect to have a nutrient analysis at the end of the year. 

For those interested in volunteering, donating or learning more about the composting effort in Ocean City, visit the Go Green OC website: https://www.gogreenwithoc.org/

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