Putting Waste to Work

September 2017

Putting Waste to Work

Paul Kazmierczak was watching a home improvement show on TV one Saturday afternoon when the topic turned to gardening. He was especially intrigued when the host started talking about the benefits of using coffee grounds for composting.

Fast forward to Monday morning when Kazmierczak, a 14-year KeyBank employee who services the loans of large commercial clients, went to the cafeteria to get his daily dose of caffeine. While waiting in line, he noticed a food service employee dumping a basket of coffee grounds into a garbage can. The Saturday afternoon TV show popped back into his head and suddenly, he had an idea.

“I thought, ‘Gee! I wonder if we could get the coffee grounds for the community garden.’”

Kazmierczak and his brother Tony, who grew up watching their dad work in a garden, together rent two 20 x 25-foot plots at Ben Franklin Community Garden. Established more than 30 years ago, the five-acre garden has been called a “jewel in the crown” of its South Hills neighborhood in Old Brooklyn. An official Cleveland Landmark, the garden is a peaceful and green oasis and one of the city’s earliest examples of the development and use of eco-friendly urban space.

Kazmierczak approached the cafeteria’s chef about his idea for the coffee grounds. One thing led to another and soon it was discovered that Key’s Corporate Real Estate Services (CRES) department had already been considering a composting program for food waste disposal as part of the bank’s overall sustainability efforts, which include the recycling of metal, bulbs, HVAC equipment, electronic waste, bank equipment and paper.

“Reducing food waste was always part of Key’s overall program to eliminate the amount of waste sent to landfills, but the bank did not have a formal composting program,” said KeyBank Head of Sustainability Andrew Watterson.

Spurred on by Kazmierczak’s request, those who had been working on the project put their efforts into high gear and a short time later, the KeyBank composting program was born. No longer would carrot tops, egg shells, leftover lettuce and yes—coffee grounds—be thrown away. Instead, these unused food items would be turned into compost for the Ben Franklin Community Garden.

The composting program is in place at the two Key locations that have on-site food preparation, including the downtown Cleveland headquarters in Key Tower, and the KeyBank Operations Center on Tiedeman Road in Brooklyn.

Each week, the organic waste management company Rust Belt Riders picks up a total of eight 64-gallon containers of food waste from the Key locations and, in partnership with Ben Franklin, converts the material into usable compost for the garden to use. Founded in 2013, Rust Belt Riders initially targeted cafes and restaurants but subsequently scaled up with the help of JumpStart. It now has about 50 Northeast Ohio clients, including hospitals and universities. Key is its first bank client.

“Our mission is to end food waste, and the participation of large institutions that care about both their communities and the planet bring us one step closer to achieving that bold goal,” said Rust Belt Riders Co-Founder Dan Brown.

Green initiatives for businesses like composting can have a significant community impact. Brown said that composting helps not only individuals who want to grow their own food, but also the local restaurant industry and Cleveland economy as a whole. “A solution that turns local food waste into a valuable asset helps make the production of local food more possible.”

The compost generated by Key is now enriching the soil at Ben Franklin Community Garden for the plots of about 180 local gardeners, including those of the Kazmierczak brothers. Along with consuming some of the food themselves and sharing some with family and friends, the entire community of Ben Franklin gardeners collectively donates thousands of pounds of vegetables to local food banks, churches and pantries.

“I’m grateful, happy that Key is doing this,” said Kazmierczak. “It’s fantastic. Key is known for its commitment to the community and this is just one more example of the company giving back.”