By Celine Wright
It’s 9am on a Friday, you’ve just finished skinning up Tiehack for Uphill Breakfast Club, and have worked up quite an appetite. You stop at Cliffhouse for French toast and a hot cup of coffee, and eat your breakfast while staring out the window at Pyramid Peak shrouded in clouds. You finish most of the French toast, leaving some fruit garnish and some of the crust behind on your plate. You think about how beautiful the view is from up there, but what you don’t think about is the journey those food scraps take once you’ve finished your meal.

Behind the scenes, the staff at Cliffhouse takes these scraps and composts them. And they’re not the only ones. It’s an initiative Aspen Skiing Company started almost five years ago and now the majority of on-mountain restaurants and one corporate office have all made the commitment to composting, too.

Here's what happens: that apple core gets thrown in the Cliffhouse's composting dumpster, which is then collected by Waste Management. It's taken to the composting facility at the Pitkin County Solid Waste Center where it's combined with other food waste, biosolids, landscape waste and wood chips. Once this mixture begins to break down it reaches a temperature of 131 degrees, enough to kill any pathogens, fecal matter and noxious weed seeds. Eventually, when done right, you're left with organic matter ideal for fertilizing gardens and flower beds.
Composting at Aspen Snowmass
Composting at Aspen Snowmass

Composting at Aspen Snowmass
Composting at Aspen Snowmass

Composting at Aspen Snowmass
Composting at Aspen Snowmass

Composting at Aspen Snowmass
Composting at Aspen Snowmass

“It’s not glamorous, but it’s important,” says Matthew Hamilton, Sustainability Director for Aspen Skiing Company.

Around 40% of the food Americans currently purchase is thrown out. Composting is the difference between more trash in landfills and waste being recycled into a useful byproduct.
“It’s not glamorous, but it’s important.”

–Matthew Hamilton, Sustainability Director for Aspen Skiing Company
Currently Bumps, Two Creeks, Cliffhouse, Elk Camp, Ullrhof, Sam’s Smokehouse, The Little Nell, the Limelight Hotel Aspen and Aspen Skiing Company’s corporate office at the Aspen Business Center all have composting programs. In the next 12 to 18 months Hamilton predicts all of Aspen Skiing Company’s restaurants and facilities will have composting capabilities.

This not only means making sure each restaurant is equipped with a place to compost — and that the waste physically makes it down the mountain on snowcats when needed — but also sourcing items like single-use utensils, cups and plates that are compostable. Over the past few years these items have become easier to source, but aren’t consistently in stock.
Once these logistics are sorted, education becomes an important guest-facing component. Aspen Skiing Company plans to bolster this in the coming months with increased signage for awareness of composting initiatives.

“Some [guests] simply don’t know what composting is,” says Hamilton. “There really is a learning element there.”

The interest and dedication of the staff at these restaurants and facilities has made a big difference, and for now, they primarily sort the food waste prior to composting. Hamilton hopes that with increased education and signage within the restaurants, guests can take on some of the responsibility, too.
Composting at Aspen Snowmass
Composting at Aspen Snowmass

“The more we can do to eliminate choices, the more successful we will be,” says Hamilton.

And it’s a battle worth fighting considering a unique set of circumstances facing Pitkin County. The Pitkin County Landfill has a lifespan and it’s limited: about five years from now the landfill will close and all Pitkin County trash will have to be loaded into trucks and carted elsewhere.

“If we keep waste that can serve other purposes out of the landfill, the more prolonged the timeline will be before we have to ship our garbage to other places,” says Hamilton.

So the next time your plate gets cleared at Cliffhouse, think about the journey the apple core takes, and better yet, put in the effort to make sure it gets composted.

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