Food Scraps to Garden Snacks: GM Ren Cen Compost Benefits Urban Farms

We're taking our waste reduction efforts a step further at our landfill-free global headquarters through a new composting initiative that will benefit urban farms in Detroit.
Aug 20, 2014 10:35 AM ET

Landfill-free is not a finish line. Even after a facility achieves landfill-free status, we still look for ways to reduce its impact.

Take our global headquarters, the 5.5 million square foot GM Renaissance Center in Detroit. We’re now composting food prep scraps from various restaurant kitchens. So far we’ve collected 12,000 pounds since April—about the weight of an elephant.

We found that just like in the drive to become landfill-free, other building tenants were supportive of the action and enthusiastic to help.

Now, for example, when Andiamo Riverfront chefs peel and chop onions, carrots and potatoes in the morning, they scrape the scraps into a special container. The container is on wheels so that kitchen staff can easily move it to various prep stations.

Local composting startup Detroit Dirt collects coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable pieces and mixes them with herbivore manure.

The initiative kicked off with Andiamo, then expanded last month to include Joe Muer Seafood, Presto Gourmet Deli, Coach Insignia, Coffee Beanery and Potbelly Sandwich Works. Restaurants in the building’s main food court are expected to join the movement in the fall.

By year’s end, we hope to collect 51,000 pounds.

Brad Schmidt, executive chef at Andiamo, says they’re collecting much more than he anticipated.

“You don’t realize how much waste you generate,” he said. “We thought we’d fill one container a week, but we’ve been averaging two a day.”

The food goes full circle. Some of that compost benefits a rooftop garden on the facility’s parking garage; a location seen by the 15,000 daily visitors to the complex when they ride on the glass elevators.

These 16 raised garden beds repurposed from shipping containers from our Orion Assembly plant also carry a sustainability story. Previously housing auto parts, they’re now covered in cedar and contain eggplant, kale, tomatoes, peppers, basil and more. They’re growing strong thanks to the building staff’s maintenance, as well as the compost that helps filter pollutants, absorb water and provide essential nutrients.

In the last couple of years, GM and Pashon Murray of Detroit Dirt have partnered on other facility composting initiatives that feed projects like Cadillac Urban Gardens in southwest Detroit. Tackling the RenCen together helps provide more nutrients for other urban gardens and farms throughout the city.

Murray, who Newsweek recently named one of 13 female entrepreneurs to bet on, is pleased with the results and awareness the effort generates.

“Companies like GM are getting their hands dirty and demonstrating a sustainability mindset,” she said. “These urban gardens contribute to Detroit’s renewal and help revitalize our neighborhoods.”

Do you compost at home or at your workplace? Share some of your best practices in the comments section.