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Empire gets even greener with new composting initiative

Executive Chef Matt Riddett dutifully composting in the Empire kitchen.

Executive Chef Matt Riddett dutifully composting in the Empire kitchen.

As odd as it sounds, composting is an activity I have always enjoyed. I remember lugging a five-gallon bucket piled high with eggshells, orange peels, veggie skins, and coffee grinds out to our compost pile every day during my childhood. I was fascinated by the process of organic matter breaking down slowly until it returned to the soil it came from. I loved checking on scraps from weeks before to see their state of deterioration. I continued to practice composting throughout my teens and twenties, and still take daily trips to my own compost pit on my property.

When I began working for Empire Brewing Company, I noticed the volume of food waste that was produced every day, and became curious if composting could be done on a larger scale, to meet our restaurant’s needs. I reached out to our trash hauler, Waste Management, to see if there were any options available and it turned out they had just started participating in a program with Onondaga County Recovery Agency at their new Amboy Composting facility in Camillus. Food scraps from around the county are processed there at high heat and turned to compost that is then used in our county parks and green spaces.

This was a perfect fit for Empire, which places a high value on sustainability, but we just needed to figure out how to make it work. We put our noses to the grindstone and along with Waste Management and OCRA ironed out the details of a composting program.

Signs, color-coding, decals, rearranging bins—I spent one morning getting everything ready and then, group by group, addressed the employees in a way I hoped would convey how important the success of this program is to Empire and to me. “Everyone one of you and your actions throughout the day matter immensely,” I told them. “It may seem that it doesn’t matter where the little bit of food, the napkin, or the one scoop of coffee grounds ends up, but in reality every little bit counts. The change starts in your head, with making your thought process about ‘What is in my hand right now and where should it end up.’ I want you all to care that much.” Because people are drawn to employers who share their values, the amount of enthusiasm our staff had toward this new program was no surprise!

Once in the swing of composting, we will divert more than 50% of our waste stream from the garbage to the ground. That’s significant and I hope that Empire can inspire our patrons and fellow business owners to think about how they can make a difference by composting in their daily lives and operations.

I applaud the county for its strong pursuit of green initiatives, Waste Management for working with us to achieve our goal, and our faithful patrons who continue to support both Empire and the health of our environment.

Nick Irvine, facilities manager