Keep Charleston Beautiful, Compost Rangers Help Alleviate Local Food Waste

A Compost Ranger teaches Charleston schoolchildren about composting.

There’s little doubt that Charleston, South Carolina, has a national reputation as a great “food town.” And, yet, like many cities and towns throughout the U.S., it struggles with an equally prevalent food problem.

Among two food-related issues Charleston aims to address are: 1) lack of accessibility to fresh affordable produce in low socio-economic status neighborhoods, and 2) lack of community-wide education about the benefits of food recycling/composting.

Delicious and organically grown vegetables are plentiful in the fine dining restaurants that abound Charleston, while the city’s lower income neighborhoods lack easily accessible, healthy and affordable produce. Nationwide, in 2014 alone, more than 38 million tons of food waste was generated, with only 5.1 percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA estimates that more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash, constituting 21.6 percent of discarded municipal solid waste.

That’s why Keep Charleston Beautiful (KCB) and its volunteers, armed with a Keep America Beautiful/Lowe’s Community Partners Grant, began working with The Compost Rangers in connecting schools, restaurants and local businesses to a grassroots compost initiative in Charleston.

Grant funds were used to construct composting cubes at three elementary school locations as well as raised garden beds, which will house the finished compost and give the students a space for planting edibles and pollinator species.

The Compost Rangers, whose mission is to augment the composting already being done in Charleston, works to address community needs by operating as the connective tissue among local businesses, gardens, and schools, with food waste as its medium. Food waste is collected by The Compost Rangers and hauled via bicycle to community gardens, where it’s recycled into compost, and then used to grow produce (i.e. “rubbish” is now the resource). While food recycling can be easily overlooked, reducing waste through organics collections is one way for KCB to help meet its mission.