Composting the compostable
Maui County’s Plastic Disposable Foodware Ordinance went into effect in March of 2022. While the non-plastic products now required for use by all take-out food service providers is a huge step towards reduction of environmentally harmful single-use plastics, these ‘compostable’ products require separation from landfill bound rubbish and processing by industrial composting systems to transform into soil. Choice Health Bar has become the first food establishment to partner with Maui’s first commercial composting facility that is permitted by the Department of Health to complete the intended cycle of compostable food ware products.
Maui's first commercial composting facility
“A (properly-permitted) commercial composting facility can effectively compost up to 70% of the types of materials in our municipal solid waste stream that are currently being landfilled,” stated Gretchen Losano, founder of West Maui Green Cycle. Through extensive research, training, and a grant from the County of Maui to purchase equipment, Maui’s first small-scale commercial composting facility that will allow for processing of compostable foodware is making environmental history and completing the crucial last steps of the efforts put forth with the County ban on plastic to-go food service items.
Closing the intended loop of compostable to-go ware
“We are pleased to support these two pioneering businesses with closing the loop on recycling compostable products,” said Tamara Farnsworth, County of Maui Environmental Protection & Sustainability Division Manager. “These efforts are the first of their kind in Maui County and WMGC has taken the necessary steps to develop and operate a legal food waste and foodware composting pilot program. We think Choice Health Bar, with their dedication to zero waste and sustainability practices, is an ideal partner in this endeavor. We can’t wait to see what comes next.”
Losano invited Choice Health Bar in Lahaina to pilot the program utilizing the industrial composting setup at West Maui Green Cycle. As a long time Choice customer, Losano saw first-hand the efforts that business owners Kathryn and Emily put forth to reduce unnecessary packing and waste. “While it is not always the easiest way to run operations, we feel it is our kuleana as a small business to reduce our impact on the environment,” states Misti Kotter, General Manager of the three Choice Health Bar locations on Maui. “We hope to lead the food service industry and inspire our customers to make environmentally conscious consumer decisions.”
Leading the industry in zero waste initiatives
Choice Health Bar was the first establishment on Maui to meet the qualifications and become certified as an Ocean Friendly Restaurant in 2016, a program that is now managed by the Surfrider Foundation. The efforts to reduce waste continue to be a core business value, in addition to supporting local farmers and community health.
Choice extends a small fee to the customer on takeout orders to cover the cost of the composting program. Clear containers, straws, forks, spoons and food waste from takeout and items from the grab-and-go fridge are separated through a custom made ‘Mālama Pono’ waste station at the Lahaina location. Customers are asked to recycle HI-5 bottles and cans, to scrape food waste into a compost bin and to separate the compostable polylactic acid (PLA) containers based on material. Signage is used to provide clear instructions on what goes where. Juice bottles are returned to the cashier for a dollar token to use towards future purchases and the colorful plastic lids and pull tabs are collected for up-cycling by local artist MichiCo who creates home décor also sold at Choice.
Reducing our impact wherever possible
With all of these efforts in place, daily landfill waste is extremely limited. The PLA containers and food waste are picked up by Losano and transported to West Maui Green Cycle center where they are processed into small pieces and added to industrial compost heaps, to effectively break down into soil. The soil is then used by local farmers to grow more fresh produce, which can be purchased by Choice Health Bar to prepare cold-pressed juice and nutritious plant-based meals for their customers. Thus, the intention of the compostable container is fully realized as a full, regenerative cycle.