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Blue Cross NC Goes Green

By Lynn Huang | September 3, 2021 | Life at Blue Cross NC, Corporate Citizenship

Two men work in community garden

In the kitchens and cafes of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC)’s Durham campus, Chef Michael Mahony and his team are busy turning one person’s trash into another person’s treasure. Every scrap of food waste in the kitchen is destined for composting. Be it vegetable peels or unsold sandwiches, all food waste from food prep and unsold food is weighed and then added to our compost bins.

For the past two and a half years, Blue Cross NC has partnered with CompostNow to divert over 12,000 pounds of food waste from the landfill. Let’s take a look at how food scraps become the compost we donate to our partners at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and the Alliance Medical Ministry!

Graphic shows Blue Cross's composting effort by numbers: 607 lbs diverted from a landfill in July, 3722 total lbs diverted from landfills in 2021, and 12,601 lifetime lbs diverted.

What is Composting?

Composting is a natural process that relies on bacteria and fungi to break down organic material into nutrient-rich compost. This “black gold” offers a wealth of benefits:

  • Composting reduces the amount of trash in our landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food scraps and yard waste make up nearly 30% of all materials sent to landfills1.
  • Composting reduces our carbon emissions and helps fight global warming. At a landfill, biodegradable materials decompose slowly and anaerobically (with little or no oxygen present), and release methane gas as they break down. Methane is a greenhouse gas, more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere1.
  • Compost naturally enriches the soil and suppresses plant diseases and pests, boosting harvests while reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides.

You can compost on almost any scale, from indoor bins perfect for small apartments to outdoors piles in backyards. Commercial composting facilities like those at CompostNow are even equipped to handle items that are hard to compost at home, like meat and bones, certified compostable utensils and food packaging, and cooking oil.

Once a week, CompostNow collects Blue Cross NC’s food scraps and brings it to a commercial composting facility. There, the food scraps are sorted to remove non-compostable items (like plastic produce stickers) and then mixed with other organic matter. The compost-to-be is then piled up outside in enormous rows that are both taller and broader than the average car.

Tractors and bulldozers turn the piles over to provide oxygen to the bacteria and fungi that will decompose the food waste. Even in winter, the compost piles reach temperatures above 130o F, killing harmful bacteria and deodorizing the compost.

After only a few short weeks, the finished compost looks like rich soil and smells pleasantly earthy. It’s ready to use!

Giving Back

As part of our commitment to end food insecurity and improve access to healthy produce, Blue Cross NC donates 100% of our generated compost to the farm and community gardens at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and the Alliance Medical Ministry.

At the farm and two community gardens run by the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, nutrient-rich compost is mixed into the soil and applied to row crops and vegetable beds. At the Food Shuttle Farm just outside of Raleigh, Blue Cross NC volunteers have helped harvest fresh produce like cucumbers, tomatoes, and leafy greens.

In the past year, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle produced over 56,000 pounds of fresh, locally grown, chemical-free produce. About 80% of the harvest is directly distributed, and 20% is sold onsite at the Farm Stand.

Man shovels compost at the "Compost Kitchen" outdoors
Masked volunteers stand out in the community farm with gardening tools

The quarter acre community garden at the Alliance Medical Ministry (AMM) produces over 2,000 pounds of fresh produce a year. All produce is given directly to patients that visit the AMM’s clinic or attend wellness classes like Cooking Matters, where culinary instructors lead hands-on classes on how to cook delicious, healthy, and affordable meals.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC is proud to support sustainability initiatives like composting and improving access to healthy food for every North Carolinian. We hope you enjoyed this look into how Blue Cross NC goes green!

Sources:

1] https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home#benefits