Rocco D’Antonio’s love affair with food waste began in earnest about three years ago, when the supermarket supplier started to dive into the numbers on discarded products.
“It got me intrigued,” he says. “I was one of the guys who sold them everything they throw away.”
Today, as the president of the Marlton-based Organic Diversion, he has found a way to reconcile his awareness of waste in the food service industry with his interest in sustainable resources.
The company transforms discarded food waste and other compostable materials from supermarkets, restaurants, and cafeterias in hospitals and schools into an organic fertilizer that can then be sold to gardeners, landscapers, and farmers looking for a fresh source of nutrient-rich plant food.
“We’re not in the waste business,” he says. “We’re a food service company that got into the food waste business. It was just a progression.”
According to the Organic Diversion website, as much as “75% of commercial food operation waste is recyclable,” which means there’s a significant opportunity to tie business efficiencies into cost savings, all while recapturing a valuable environmental resource. So where better to ply this trade than in Collingswood?
D’Antonio is a frequent restaurant-goer who says he’s sampled the fare from every kitchen in town “and it’s unusual if I’m not down there at least a couple times a month.” It turned out that his recycling trucks were also operating near the borough at a significant enough frequency that he could no longer ignore the connection between the two.
“The sheer number of restaurants going down Haddon Avenue, that’s something we look for in building route density,” D’Antonio said.
With the support of local leadership, including Mayor James Maley and borough commissioner Joan Leonard, D’Antonio was invited to pitch his services to members of the local business community--and with good reason. With 60 percent of a $3 per ton statewide tax on waste linked to recycling incentive grants, “Restaurant Row” has a significant opportunity to chip away at the bottom line of the Collingswood budget.
“We saw that the town had done several things to be a green community, and we thought it made sense to help get restaurant composting up and running,” D’Antonio said.
So what goes into kitchen recycling? It’s probably easier to say what doesn’t. The list of acceptable materials includes everything from discarded and expired food waste like sandwich crusts and uneaten cole slaw to coffee grounds, filters, and other paper products.
D’Antonio and his staff work with kitchen crews to teach them about separating out the compostable goods for pick-up; the company also provides odor-neutralizing equipment and special organics compactors to make the process as streamlined as possible.
“It ends up becoming 100% organic compost, and that product is sent back to farms; back in town,” D’Antonio said--in fact, Warner Landscape and patio took its first delivery of organic compost this week.
As a downtown patron, there’s something beautifully cyclical about the idea of being able to eat at one of the six restaurants that participate in the Organic Diversion program and knowing that you can walk down the street to pick up a bag of leftovers for your flower beds. Yet for these businesses, D’Antonio says, it’s more than a philosophical statement.
“If you’re in the food business and I give you a report that shows you how much food you’re throwing away, you take that data and you use it to adjust your purchasing habits; your operations,” he says. “You can work with your local food bank to donate some of the food that you can’t use; all these things make your business more efficient and more profitable. It’s good for the community, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for business.”