NWA Wastes 80,000 Tons of Food A Year; Food Loops Offers Solution

NWA Wastes 80,000 Tons of Food A Year; Food Loops Offers Solution

By Abby Zimmardi
The Razorback Reporter

Richard Ims holding food waste cart in a Starbucks, Oct. 15, one of the restaurants they work with. Photo by Abby Zimmardi

Northwest Arkansas residents and businesses waste 80,000 tons of food each year. A company called Food Loops is working to lower that.

With a population of 563,400 and growing 32 people a day, Northwest Arkansas is growing faster than 96 of the nation’s 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas, according to the Northwest Arkansas Council.

The more than half-million people who live here contribute to the mass of food waste. To counter that problem, Food Loops has developed composting programs and compostable products for restaurants and residents, said Micheal Kraus, Food Loops co-founder. Food Loops is operating to reduce the 80,000 tons of food waste in half in the next five years, Kraus said. 

“Right now, we are about 2% of the way to our goal,” Kraus said.

In the last three months, Food Loops has gained momentum, Kraus said. Food Loops workers bought a new truck that picks up waste and allows them to work with more clients. They are growing quickly, he said.

Food Loops operates at 40 restaurants, one hospital and attends many events where workers try to divert all of the waste from the landfill, leaving no waste at all, Kraus said.

Each week, Food Loops picks up 10 tons, said Richard Ims, Food Recycling Solutions founder, a partner with Food Loops.

“I formed the company because Food Loops out grew their ability to collect all of the food waste because it’s a grassroots effort,” Ims said. “We got a strong guy lifting up these 32 gallon barrels on the back of a pickup truck, which is great, but when you talk about larger and larger volumes, it’s not very scalable.”

The mission of Food Loops is to meet people where they are and help them live more sustainably, Kraus said. Food Loops workers achieve this by making their products affordable for residents at $10 a month to subscribe in a bucket swap program.

“We give them an empty five-gallon bucket, they fill it up and they can come give us the full one and we swap it out for another clean one,” Kraus said.

Participants fill the buckets with food waste, then Food Loops workers take the waste and create compost. They then sell the organic products to farmers, landscapers and residents, according to the Food Loops website.

“Our facilities in Rogers is where we grind up the food waste,” Kraus said. “And the city of Fayetteville composts, so we bring it here, they do the composting for us. We don’t have our own facility yet, we will, but we have our own grinding sites where we grind up everything.”

Food Loops hopes to reduce the amount of waste in NWA and reduce the amount of waste that goes into the landfill by 50%, Ims said.

Food Loops truck that can hold 7.5 tons of food waste. Photo by Richard Ims

“You have to shoot for that goal and you have to start somewhere and you have to incrementally move to that goal,” Ims said.

Ims thinks that by raising awareness to the waste problem and offering Food Loops as a solution, that will help people become part of the effort to reduce waste from going into the landfill, he said.

Food Loops workers do not want the landfill to continue to grow because once waste is in the landfill, it will be there forever, Kraus said.

“That landfill is going to be sealed up with a big tarp someday and it’s going to be covered with a bunch of soil and it will live there forever,” Kraus said.

American businesses, consumers and farms spend $218 billion a year growing, processing, transporting and disposing food that is never eaten, according to ReFED. That adds up to 52 million tons of food annually going into the landfill. Food waste takes up about 21% of landfill volume and homes and consumer-facing businesses create most of the waste.

“That’s a huge problem,” Kraus said. “It’s a huge problem locally, it’s a huge globally.”

Food Loops is trying to combat the increasing number of landfills, but runs into a problem when consumers add plastics and other non-compostable products to their waste buckets, Kraus said. The company calls these products unwanted foreign objects, or UFOs.

“We were getting lots of plastic forks or solo cups or plates that aren’t compostable in our mix,” Kraus said. “And so we decided after a visit here, to the U of A, to the cafeterias, that what we’re going to do is start selling compostable products as a solution.”

The compostable products that Food Loops offers includes cups, lids, straws, plates, bowls, cutlery, liners, bags and take out containers, according to the Food Loops website.

“They’re made out of plants, starches, corn and they hold up very, very nicely,” Ims said. “Some of the cold cups actually look like plastic, most people couldn’t tell the difference other than the fact that it’s marked that it’s compostable.”

The reason that plastics are widely used is because they are cheaper than compostable products, Ims said. Overtime, the prices have started to drop, but they are still more than plastics.

For example, 1,000 12-ounce clear cups from Food Loops cost $199.93, according to the website. And 1,000 12-ounce plastic cups from Amazon.com cost $42.79, according to Amazon.

Food Loops has continued to reduce waste from the landfill since 2017, when the company was founded, Kraus said. “And you know, our goal, our vision hasn’t changed since then. We are still trying to divert food waste from the landfill,” he said.

Food Loops works with sustainably minded people and even people who do not know how to be sustainable, Kraus said.

“We can meet the people who are not even on the radar of sustainability and help them take steps towards living a more sustainable life,” Kraus said. “And that’s our goal, no matter who you are, we can help.”

Environmental Activists Work to Increase Awareness, Gather at Town Square to Fight Climate Change

Environmental Activists Express Awareness, Need for Action

Fayetteville resident Holli Johnson participates in the NWA Climate Strike. Photo by Abby Zimmardi

By Abby Zimmardi
The Razorback Reporter

Fayetteville environmental activists lent their voices to global climate strikes and demonstrations about how waste reduction and education can help the planet. Activists also expressed an array of views, from anti-capitalism to use of hemp, as possible counters to climate change.

Their concern, activists said, is for the future of the planet and some think that education is needed to change humans’ impact on the environment.

Taylor Gladwin, Washington County Environmental Affairs Department environmental educator, teaches waste reduction, whether it is through composting, recycling or reusing, she said. Gladwin wants people to know that everything has an effect, good or bad.

“My big thing is I like people to know that everything is connected,” Gladwin said. “Everything has an equal and opposite reaction and everyone lives downstream from somebody.”

An example of “everyone lives downstream from somebody” is the pollution from factories that goes into local waterways, Gladwin said. That negatively impacts communities in the surrounding areas because they are left with toxic water and the pollution kills the fish. The community did not do anything wrong, but they are the ones who suffer as well as the animals that rely on the water and fish to survive.

UA senior Alex Danek, an environmental activist, thinks that capitalism is a cause of climate change, and said people should look to fight an economic system that is increases the temperature of the earth. Large corporations emit pollutants from producing products and generate billions of dollars, Danek said.

“At the end of the day its not a personal thing,” Danek said. “No matter how many short showers you take, or how many people decide to order a veggie burger instead of a hamburger, at the end of the day it’s capitalism that is driving climate change.

“It’s not anything that any one individual person can change on their own,” Danek said.

Industries and companies under capitalism should have addressed the issue of climate change a long time ago but have only had an interest in making money, Bianka Rios, UofA senior said.

CBD American Shaman and Kava Bar owners Loudy Bousman and Ranaga Farbiarz were among the participants in the NWA Climate Strike in downtown Fayetteville. Photo by Abby Zimmardi

“They’ve let it get to this point, like how dare they get to this point?” Rios said.

Younger generations have voiced that they are fearful of growing up in a world that continues to ignore climate change, Rios said.

“I’ve heard so many younger generations be like ‘I’m scared of growing up because what if I can’t breathe?’” Rios said.

Fayetteville resident Holli Johnson thinks that people can make small changes to help the planet, she said. Johnson is vegan and believes that living a vegan lifestyle is good for the body and good for the planet.

Vegans do not eat animal products and they do not wear or use products made from animals, as well as not going to places such as the circus or zoo, Johnson said. They value conservation over captivity and treat being vegan as a lifestyle and not a diet.

“There are things you can do to make a difference,” Johnson said. “I know corporations can make changes as far as emitting horrible pollutants into the environment and depleting the ozone.”

Loudy Bousman and Ranaga Farbiarz believe that the solution to climate change is hemp, Farbiarz said. Bousman and Farbiarz own the CBD American Shaman and Kava Bar in Fayetteville.

“Everything would be running on hemp now if it had been out, what 80 years ago,” Farbiarz said. “So now that we’ve settled or legalized the production of hemp, this is just the beginning of a turn around.”

Industrial hemp does not require the use of pesticides, which can harm the environment. It stops the growth of weeds, improves soil health and creates a high amount of energy for biogas (versatile energy used for electricity, vehicle and jet fuel and can replace natural gas) and solid fuels, such as coal, according to a Biomass and Bioenergy article from the Science Direct website.

Hemp has multiple industrial uses including fuel, medicine, fiber and more, Farbiarz said. It is a renewable fuel and commodity.

The four-hour strike took place at noon, Sept. 27, at the Fayetteville Town Square. Billy Cook, the UA Young Democrats vice president, helped organize the climate strike with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology, he said.

“My personal hope is that it will be a call to action for young people, especially since we’re the ones who will face the brunt of the climate crisis,” Cook said.

The climate strike was a space where people could come together and share their different reasons for fighting climate change, Johnson said.

Gladwin hopes that the climate strike will inspire at least one person and that the fight against climate change grows, she said.

“I’m an air breather so this is a very important issue to me,” Gladwin said.

Fayetteville Workers Pick Up Waste Too Large For Trash Cans

Massive Bulky Waste Haul Keeps Tens of Tons of Waste From Landfills

Fayetteville workers pick-up waste that is too large for trash cans for free eight times a year.

By Abby Zimmardi
The Razorback Reporter

Three semitrailers – outfitted to crush and haul waste – parked at Vandergriff Elementary, where Fayetteville residents drove their loaded vehicles and city workers unloaded trash too big to drop into curbside bins.

Fayetteville workers unload a resident’s trailer filled with bulky waste and toss it into a semitrailer, Oct. 12. Photo by Abby Zimmardi

The discarded waste – couches, mattresses, chairs and other bulky items – was part of an eight-times yearly collection that the city organizes, said Brian Pugh, Fayetteville waste reduction coordinator. Residents also brought metal items, including swing-sets, and electronics (e-waste), such as computers and printers.

“If you have big bulky stuff, you can get rid of it at no cost as long as you are a Fayetteville resident paying for trash service,” Pugh said. “That is part of your services that the city offers.”

On that early October day alone, Fayetteville workers collected 48.42 tons of trash for the landfill, 15.95 tons of metal for recycling and 3.19 tons of e-waste for recycling, Pugh said. Bulky waste is collected four times in the spring and four in the fall.

“Typically a cleanup would be about 40-50 tons,” Pugh said. “And the e-waste that we’re able to collect, is usually between 2 and 5 tons.”

The program is geared toward encouraging waste diversion, including composting and recycling to prevent overloading landfills, Pugh said.

The cleanup includes paper shredding for three hours of the October session, Pugh said. Residents can take tax returns or any similarly personal information that they want shredded, and workers recycle the shredded paper.

To prove Fayetteville residency and attend the cleanup, patrons can show a water bill or driver’s license with a Fayetteville address to the event, Pugh said.

“We ask the best thing is to bring proof that you pay for services,” Pugh said. “So like a water bill has that on there. But if they don’t have that, a driver’s license with a Fayetteville address works fine.”

Fayetteville resident Becca Clark attended the Sept. 21 cleanup and brought a cat tree and a wooden magazine rack.

“The guys there are super nice and very helpful,” she said. “They open the car and drag all of the stuff for you.”

Clark has known about the cleanups for nearly 10 years, she said. Even when she does not attend one, she lets her friends know about them.

Pugh thinks that the price for monthly trash services is a good deal for what residents get, he said.

“If you’re a resident that really tries hard to recycle and has that small trash cart, you get your trash, recycling, yard waste, bulky waste, all of that for $10 a month,” Pugh said. “I mean come on, that’s a really good deal.”

Pugh calls the waste system a “pay as you throw” program, which means residents can choose from three trash bin sizes, he said. The smaller the bin, the lower the rate is to have weekly, home trash collection.

Residents have to separate waste from recyclables before Fayetteville workers collect it because workers will not take recycling that is mixed with trash, Pugh said.

“If they will take the time to separate out their waste and try to think of those as resources as opposed to waste, then they can save money,” Pugh said. “But it’s up to them, really. There is no mandatory recycling in Fayetteville.”

Residents who were unable to attend the Oct. 12 clean up, had one more opportunity, Oct. 26. The Fayetteville Recycling and Trash Collection can pick up waste from neighborhoods if residents cannot attend the events, as long as there is room for the truck to maneuver, Pugh said.

City, UA officials set compost plans to reduce amounts of waste

City, UA officials say composting helps reduce waste

Fayetteville and the UofA advocate expanded composting programs.

By Abby Zimmardi
The Razorback Reporter

Fayetteville city officials started composting food waste last year and are working to improve soil health and divert trash from landfills, a city health coordinator said.

“There’s a lot of benefits of composting,” Brian Pugh, the city of Fayetteville waste reduction coordinator said. “The most obvious is that it improves the health of the soil. It’s not a fertilizer; it’s organic matter.

“In Arkansas it’s illegal to throw away yard waste, and composting is the answer to that,” Pugh said.

Act 751 took effect in 1991, Pugh said. In 2018, Fayetteville city officials approved a food waste composting program.

City officials passed a plan in 2017 to divert 40% of waste from landfills by 2027, Pugh said.

“We have a goal to divert from the landfill,” Pugh said. “Now we’re trying to target food waste and collect as much as we can and put it in our compost system.”

The waste diversion plan also has helped to improve Fayetteville’s composting program, Pugh said.

Waste diversion is redirecting waste away from landfills by recycling or composting, said Sophie Hill, zero waste coordinator for the office for sustainability. That is one of the main goals of the Office for Sustainability.

“We want to be net zero waste by 2040,” Hill said. “That means that of all the waste we have, we want 90% of it to be diverted from the landfill. Right now we are a little bit below 50% waste diversion.”

The UA Office for Sustainability and the university both work with the city of Fayetteville to certify that leftover food is not wasted, but diverted. They set a goal in place to have net zero waste achieved by 2040, Hill said.

“The city of Fayetteville, a couple of years ago, partnered with Chartwells dining on campus and they rolled out a composting pilot program and it went super well,” Hill said. “So now Chartwells and the city are working together and they have composting in the back of each dining hall.”

Brough and Fulbright dining halls have bins that leftover food goes into so that it can get composted, said Eric Boles, director of the office for sustainability.

“All of our dining halls on campus are collecting food waste and even use napkins and they put those in bins that are picked up by the city of Fayetteville,” Boles said.

Compostable products include food waste as well as certain cups and plates as long as they say BPI certified compostable wear on it, Pugh said. BPI stands for Biodegradable Products Institute and that means that any product with that on it, can be composted, he said.

“Degradability, that is the product that starts to break down but it never goes away,” Pugh said.

“The compostable wears, those actually become part of the compost.” Restaurants in Fayetteville are starting to use products that are BPI certified, Pugh said.

While it is beneficial to divert waste from landfills by using BPI products, it does not add any value to the compost if there is not any food waste in it, Pugh said.

“At the end of the day, if all you collect are napkins and no food waste, how valuable is that?” Pugh said. “It’s not.”

Composting is something that anyone can do, Boles said.

“It’s fairly easy,” Boles said. “It’s as simple as if you had a corner of your backyard that’s unused. You could start composting food waste and mix it once a week.”

Solar Panels Could Save Fayetteville $6 Million

Solar Panels Could Save Fayetteville $6 Million

Fayetteville workers installed the first large-scale solar grid system that could save Fayetteville $6 million over the life of the project.

By Abby Zimmardi
The Razorback Reporter

The first large-scale solar panel arrangement and battery storage unit in the mid-South could save Fayetteville $6 million and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a city official said.

“This project came about because of long-range plans developed by the city in its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Chris McNamara, the city of Fayetteville sustainability project manager.

Today’s Power, Inc., the solar panel provider, joined the city and Ozarks Electric Cooperative, the maintenance provider, to make this project possible, said Jennah Denney, marketing and public relations coordinator for Today’s Power, Inc.

The mayor, city officials and power company executives who were involved with the project gathered at the West Side Wastewater Treatment Facility Sept. 6 to ‘Flip the Switch,’ Denney said.

City officials last year set in motion the plan with a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving 100% clean energy by 2030, McNamara said. The plan is called the energy action plan and this sparked the solar panel project.

This project brought the city to 73% renewable energy, Denney said. This is a substantial amenity both economically and environmentally.

The solar panels and battery storage will use renewable energy to offset the use of fossil fuels, McNamara said. This project cost $22 million but will save the city $6 million.

“It’s $182,000 savings annually,” McNamara said. “It equals six million over the life of the project; it’ll last 20 years.”

The money saved from the project will help to loosen the city’s budget, McNamara said. This means more flexibility for improvements to the city, such as designing better sidewalks or investing in alternative transportation methods. 

The solar panels will bring economic development, Denney said.

“That means that more improvements for the city,” Denney said. 

This project will create more opportunities for growth and impact future generations, Denney said. 

It will also impact the university by showing the students and staff about what can be achieved, McNamara said.

“The university has a net zero emissions goal itself,” McNamara said. “What it does is it strengthens the hands of the university and shows what’s possible and shows opportunities of what’s possible in the future.”

Because the campus has an energy provider other than the solar grid, this project will not directly impact the university, said Alan Mantooth, professor of electrical engineering. 

The bigger deal of the project is the utilities that were put into it, Mantooth said. They made it so that coal or nuclear energy would not be used, making it more sustainable.

City officials in Arkansas are not usually the first to design and carry out an amenity like ‘Flip the Switch,’ Denney said.

“Arkansas was a trendsetter in the mid-South for this project,” Denney said.

After this project, Arkansas residents can expect to see more sustainable energy from solar panels, Mantooth said. 

“We’re starting to see more and more penetration of solar power in Arkansas,” Mantooth said. 

Arkansas is ranked 13th in the nation for solar potential, but it is near the last in development, McNamara said. 

“This is one of the first municipal solar projects that combines battery storage,” McNamara said. “It’s a leader in the southeast for combined solar and battery storage.”