Composting and the Idea of Practical Sustainability

By Dakota Lum

Posted On March 6, 2018

In Criollo Latin Kitchen and other Flagstaff businesses you will find compost bins. Every day organic materials like vegetable scraps are thrown into the bins and await their pick up.

Every Monday and Thursday Kevin Ordean or another cofounder of Roots Composting, LLC picks up the bins and takes them to their composting facility.

Ordean and his partners know a lot about the food waste that occurs here in Flagstaff. They are attempting to dispose of the waste in an environmentally and economically healthy way.

Roots is working to educate those interested in learning more about composting and its benefits. “So the definition I use for the kindergarteners is salad and trees. You take salad and trees and mix them up and it turns into soil,” Kevin Ordean said.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of compost is a mixture of decomposed organic matter that is used for nourishing land.

By reusing the food as soil we are “reducing methane emissions from landfills and lowering our carbon footprint,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states.

Roots Composting is one of the many locally owned businesses in Flagstaff that have a sustainability commitment.

Sustainability is defined as practices that do not entirely consume or devastate natural resources, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

For the guys at Roots that means that they are sourcing and decomposing local food.

Once they turn all the waste into healthy compost they then bag the soil and sell it to local businesses and farmers.

The sustainable cycle is growing much larger within Flagstaff and Northern Arizona. The General Manager of Proper Meats + Provisions, Joe Fianeach, says Pierre’s Prime Beef of Rimrock, Ariz. feed their steer spent grain from Lumberyard Brewery and then Proper Meats purchases the animals and butchers them for meat.

Then other businesses like Criollo Latin Kitchen come in and purchase the meat and then they go out and buy produce from other local farmers. All the organic waste that they produce then gets composted by Roots and created into usable soil.

Then companies like Native Plant and Seed and local farmers purchase the soil and use it for growing more produce. It is a never-ending cycle.

“I don’t know how you can be much more sustainable than what we’re trying to do,” Fianeach said.

The City of Flagstaff Food Waste webpage states that, “the average U.S. household throws away one quarter of all the food it purchases, wasting almost $1,600 per year.” Not only that but it wastes the natural resources used to produce the food. 25% of freshwater, 4% of oil consumption and 135 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions are all used up on food that just ends up in the trash.

As mentioned before by the EPA, food waste that ends up in landfills produces a large amount of methane. Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than even carbon dioxide.

Strong greenhouse gases like this “absorb infrared radiation and heat up the earth’s atmosphere, causing global warming and climate change,” according to the Move for Hunger website.

By making small changes, such as starting home composting, one can stop 150 kilograms of food waste a year from being irresponsibly disposed of in landfills.

The idea behind Roots Composting started around 2013. “This gentleman named Patrick Pfeifer was at NAU as part of his Master’s thesis he did composting on campus – he got that brought back,” Ordean said. Ordean convinced Pfeifer to take the idea to the community. “We went to a business plan competition and won and got five grand to try it out,” Ordean continued.

Roots has been around for a few years but has had its challenges trying to create a strong hold in the community.

Fianeach mentioned that Proper Meats + Provisions initially partnered with Roots when they first opened but they did not have enough waste in terms of picking up, and the facility that Roots was using was not working well with the breaking down process of the meat.

“It wasn’t breaking down fast enough for them so right now until they get their next setup they’re going to hold off on picking up here,” Fianeach said.

Roots began in Ordean’s backyard in the middle of Flagstaff but their facility has moved several times and now they are trying to secure a location of over 20 acres where composting can be done correctly.

Securing the location has been taking a while only because of a big project the company is trying to do, which requires permission from the county.

Currently there is a forest restoration project going on where the Coconino National Forest service is thinning the trees to reduce fire hazard, and Roots wants to take the used up woodchips and use it for compost.

“I don’t know how much you know about Arizona politics but the state legislature is kind of grumpy about anything that even smells sustainability,” Ordean said.

A clear example of this is how the Arizona government denied the United Nations sustainability development plan, better known as UN Agenda 21. The United Nations has spent over two decades developing this plan to help the global community and reduce mankind’s carbon footprint. Nonetheless, Arizona politicians created a legislation that banned UN Agenda 21 from the state.

However, Arizona is not the only state being harsh with environmentalists and their proposals. Politicians are not stopping at passing anti-sustainable legislations; they are affecting our food too.

“I think given the current state of politics with grant funding for the EPA in general, given climate change, and sort of the current state of disregard for climate change, I think food security is going to be really, really huge,” said the owner of Flagstaff EcoRanch, Jeff Meilander.

Flagstaff EcoRanch educates the community on practical sustainability and how to fix global issues through local actions.

According to a study by New York University, “In order to feed the world population in 2050 the production of food will have to grow by 70%, whereby the demand in developing countries will be nearly threefold.”

In attempt to remedy the situation more restaurants are trying to change their ways and help their communities and earth as much as possible. However, as of now it is still very difficult to source enough organic or local products.

“I know that more and more places are trying to work towards that [100% local food]. One of the slight drawbacks is sometimes the accessibility of the small farms,” head chef of Criollo Latin Kitchen, Michael Dilfillipantonio said. “You know, there’s just so many people that come through town and to be able to keep up with that demand is overwhelming for those guys [small farmers].”

Along with the issue of accessibility to sustainable foods lies the issue with composting; not everything is compostable. Meat is one of the products that is usually not accepted in compost. So butchers like Joe Fianeach have to get creative in figuring out how to effectively use every part of an animal.

“There’s kidney, heart, liver, tongue that most people aren’t familiar with so they don’t know how to cook it, so we try to educate them on that. And then the stuff that doesn’t sell like liver, because there’s a lot of liver in a cow, we make dog food with that,” Fianeach said.

How Fianeach has learned to use every part of a cow for food is a good example of Meilander’s idea of practical sustainability.

“I feel like the idea behind practical sustainability is making changes that work for you, that you can do on your own time, but also realizing that those changes have incremental effects to affect a global society,” Meilander said.