For nearly 20 years, we’ve worked to create a sustainable North Hills through innovative initiatives. This spring, we’ve partnered with Food FWD and Waste Industries to create a composting program designed to lessen the amount of waste produced across North Hills.
In a three-part series, we’ll profile each of the partnering organizations to give you an inside look into the new program. Today, we’re kicking off with Noah Marsh, founder of Food FWD.
North Hills Live: Tell me about your company, and how you got started.
Noah Marsh: Our mission is to make food waste diversion easy and economical for the Triangle food industry. I got the idea for Food FWD while working as a kitchen manager for a restaurant. In order to better understand where we were wasting food, I didn’t allow my staff to throw food in the normal trash. Instead, they had to throw it into a bucket. At the end of the shift, I’d ask them how that food ended up in the bucket. This allowed us to figure out the “why” behind the wasted food.
However, I then had all this food that I was throwing back into a dumpster to go to the landfill. I knew there were better things that could be done with it. I grew up with a compost heap in my backyard, and I knew farmers loved feeding some leftover food to chickens, hogs, and cows. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a solution that was reliable and dependable enough to take the material. Everyone wanted the food waste, but no one could come get it consistently enough for me to go for it.
In the end, I found that composting was the best option for my restaurant because it meant we were repurposing more than just food. Once I figured this out, I quit my job, bought a garbage truck, and started collecting food waste.
NHL: What are some of the benefits of composting?
NM: Composting is nature’s way of recycling things that were once alive. Some of the benefits of composting are that we reduce the amount of waste going to landfills, reduce carbon emissions, and increase soil health so farmers can grow more food naturally and use fewer chemicals. In short, the benefit of composting is that it closes the loop on farm-to-table-back-to-farm.
NHL: How do you foresee the concept of composting growing over the next 3-5 years? 5-10 years?
NM: Today, people think of composting like we thought of recycling when I was in elementary school. People are just now understanding what it is and learning more about it. As my generation and the next generation continue to become more of the dining public, composting will become more and more commonplace. Since we’ve grown up with recycling and, now, composting, we expect to see those things wherever we go. If a business isn’t recycling or composting, it’s a huge turnoff. In 3-5 years, composting will no longer be the “new thing” that only a handful of restaurants are doing. Within 10 years, composting will be crossing the tipping point into mainstream acceptance.
NHL: Tell us about your partnership with Waste Industries.
NM: This is an incredible partnership fostered by North Hills to bring Food FWD and Waste Industries together. North Hills and Food FWD first began discussing the idea of composting in September of 2015. b.good and Edible Art signed up as our pilot restaurants. For just over a year, we gathered the data on how much they were diverting from the landfill. When it came time to revisit the contract with Waste Industries, North Hills presented that data. Once Waste Industries saw the data they were happy to partner with us to divert more from the landfills. Composting aligns nicely with North Hills, Waste Industries, and Food FWD’s sustainability goals. It just made sense once the numbers showed how much of an impact this would have on our local ecosystem and communities.
NHL: What are your goals of composting at North Hills?
NM: Our goal is to have no food from North Hills end up in a landfill. This is not going to be accomplished overnight, but the partnership with Waste Industries has provided a great starting point – restaurants. A typical person ends up throwing away about seven pounds of food a week. A restaurant will throw away a couple hundred pounds of food a week. Food FWD hopes that by targeting the restaurants first, we can then target other sources of food waste at North Hills.
NHL: How does Food FWD implement composting at North Hills?
NM: North Hills announced the partnership to the restaurants and invited me to speak at one of its merchant meetings in May to re-introduce the program. I’m personally reaching out to every restaurant and explaining the program. I have a quick conversation with the restaurant to assess how much food waste the restaurant would be generating, and they walk me through their current workflow for disposing of the food waste. After that, we bring them the necessary number of carts, and they can start composting! Since the program was announced, we’ve already had Grabbagreen start composting and have three others that will begin shortly.
NHL: How do you feel your product aligns with North Hills’ values in sustainability, community, and innovation?
NM: Food FWD’s composting program aligns well with North Hills’ values. By creating this partnership, North Hills, Food FWD, and Waste Industries have done something no other district in North Carolina has done to my knowledge – offer a composting program to all restaurant tenants at no cost. Food FWD does more than just divert food waste from the landfill. We are a Green Plus Certified company. This means we operate according to a triple bottom line accounting model that balances our business performance with our impact on the planet, as well as the people in the community we serve and operate in. All the compost produced from this program stays within 50 miles of North Hills on local farms and landscapes. This means it improves the soil in our local community and the food grown from it ends up on the tables of people in the Triangle. Food FWD also pays its employees living wages, and our drivers are TROSA graduates.
NHL: What is your favorite part about what you do?
NM: When we first started, I quickly established a schedule that allowed me to see almost every sunrise. There are some pretty ones that just make me stop what I’m doing and watch the colors change on the clouds. I’m not seeing as many sunrises now, as we’ve hired a full-time driver to take over my duties on the truck. Now, I get to see the transformation of skeptics into advocates as they experience how simple and easy it is to compost and realize how beneficial composting is for their guests and community.