click to enlarge

Photo: courtesy of Queen City Commons

Co-operators Queen City Commons Marie Hopkins (left) and Julia Marchez

Turning food waste back into soil is an initiative of the composting service Queen City Commons (QCC) was founded.

The idea, started by Marie Hopkins, first arose from a conversation with a friend who had recently moved into an apartment and was looking for an organization to pick up her leftovers.

“I heard about the service in several other cities and wanted to do something new,” says Hopkins. CityBeat. “I thought, ‘(Composting) is very simple and should be available to everyone.'”

With experience in biomedical engineering and experience in nonprofits, Hopkins began researching the idea in 2019. She later created GoFundMe and received a $ 10,000 grant to innovate in Hamilton County Waste Reduction to fund the project.

The QCC began collecting scraps in early 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently registered as a LLC, the five-year plan of the company plans to move to a cooperative owned by workers.

As composting services have become more popular in cities across America, so has the role of food waste for the environment.

click to enlarge Compost heap Queen City Commons - PHOTO: courtesy of QUEEN CITY COMMONS

Photo: courtesy of Queen City Commons

Queen City Commons compost pile

The Greater Cincinnati Green Umbrella report for 2019 says that 40% of food produced in the US is wasted, which not only wastes resources but also produces greenhouse gases. Cincinnati is not an anomaly: the same report notes that “more than 30% of the organic matter entering the landfill can be composted in residential areas and almost 50% can be composted commercially.”

Hopkins says the QCC began its commercial collection in March 2020, but has included residential locations. Julia Marchez was one of the first residents to sign up for QCC services and later joined Hopkins as the company’s second employee.

The QCC currently collects food waste from businesses and organizations in Greater Cincinnati, and provides residents with a place to compost.

“We try to make it as accessible as possible,” Marchez says. “As part of commercial operation, we offer as much information as possible about how the composting process works and what doesn’t, and we train staff so that we don’t get a lot of contaminants.”

Currently, QCC has 17 commercial partners, including cafes, restaurants, offices and food stores. About 120 residents have signed up to use their communities.

click to enlarge Compost bins used by Queen City Commons - PHOTOS: provided by QUEEN CITY COMMONS

Photo: courtesy of Queen City Commons

Compost bins used by Queen City Commons

For residents, QCC accepts compost on a sliding payment option – $ 5 to $ 15 per month, depending on income. Neighborhoods include College Hill, Northside, Over-the-Rhine, Walnut Hills and Madeira. QCC also collects pruning at Northside Farmers Market every Wednesday summer.

Marchez notes that their landing sites are chosen deliberately, either near a residential building or in a more concentrated urban area.

“It’s part of the thought behind landing: if you don’t have the time, energy or place to (compost) a home, you have one nearby,” Marchez says.

Although the QCC is a small part of the food waste solution, Hopkins says several ways are needed to address the problem. Their focus was mainly on partnering with local farms and orchards to provide composting for use as soil. Food waste collected by the QCC is composted back into soil that farms can use to grow more food, offering at least one way to reduce waste.

In Ohio, non-residential facilities over 500 square feet with compost must register with the state EPA. That could be an obstacle, Hopkins says. So far, QCC is working with producers who meet these guidelines, including Carriage House Farm and Walnut Hills Gardens, to compost the collected food waste without having to register with the state EPA. Such cooperation speaks of their closed spirit.

As an example, Marchez says the QCC collects 150 to 200 pounds of trimmings a week from Bouquet, a restaurant in Covington. This material is then taken to the Carriage House farm, which uses ready-made soil in the beds to grow products, some of which are bought by Bouquet. Seeing this circular relationship in action, says Marchez, is a “moment of mother’s pride.”

Most of the trimmings collected by the QCC are vegetable: onion and banana peel, moldy bread, overripe foods, greens, coffee filters, beans, eggshells and paper. Each of their 64-gallon residential compost bins has a label with information on acceptable items to throw.

Non-compostable items include: dairy products, meat and fish, oil and fat, harsh detergents, plastics, stickers, pet waste, compostable equipment, clothing and dryers, most tea bags, glossy paper and cardboard .

click to enlarge Food ready for Queen City Commons compost - PHOTO: QUEEN CITY COMMONS

Photo: courtesy of Queen City Commons

The food is ready for composting Queen City Commons

Because QCC only deals with small composting, they cannot accept “composted” plastics that you can get at a coffee shop or restaurant. These plastics need to be recycled at large plants.

“If you’re aware of going to the farmer’s market or buying local produce, this is one way people can connect with the natural world and our dependence on it,” Hopkins says. “Compost is a way to connect to the other end of it. You know where you buy food, and you also choose to do something with leftovers. ”

Leftovers are then turned into something useful that can provide nutrients, Hopkins says. If people do not eat it, soil biology will appear.

Marchez adds that composting makes people more aware of their own consumption and impact on society.

As the QCC grows, they hope to expand the model that already exists by adding capacity to more areas of Hamilton County. They are also looking to create more networks of places to handle their waste.

“We’re another piece of the composting puzzle around town,” Marchez says. “There are so many different ways to compost and so many ways to collect it.”

Learn more about how to compost out Queen City Commons
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