The Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa offers everything a traveler desires. From its stylish, Euro-chic features to an extensive, completely original collection of local art – every detail, floor to ceiling, was hand-chosen to create an amazing atmosphere for guests to enjoy. But what guests may not realize is that this upscale hotel is composting its food waste and keeping it out of the landfill.

The Hotel at Kirkwood Center and its Class Act Restaurant were both founded on green principles.  The Hotel's building structure includes an advanced heating/cooling system and energy efficient occupancy sensors.  A charging station is available for electric vehicles. In February, Kirkwood Community College finished installing a 2.5 Megawatt Clipper wind turbine on campus.  However, food waste diversion is not exactly something you would associate with a hotel that has twice earned the prestigious American Automobile Association (AAA) Four Diamond Rating for lodging excellence.

Auditing the Trash

special food waste disposal

In April of 2012, GreenRU, an organic waste diversion program founded in Blairsburg, Iowa, approached The Hotel and requested they do a "trash audit."  "What we found out was roughly 80 percent of our trash could be turned to compost and diverted out of the landfill," said Melanie Ewalt, Director of Food and Beverage.  "That was a big surprise for us."  GreenRU representative, Demetrios Hadjis, worked with The Hotel at Kirkwood and the in-house Kirkwood Culinary Program to immediately incorporate compost bins and training for employees and students. The food waste streams included those from the restaurant, banquets and room service.  From the start of the program in May of 2012, The Hotel at Kirkwood has diverted over 45 tons of compostable food waste.  

Last month, the Kirkwood Café, the student cafeteria on the Kirkwood College Community Campus started composting all of their “pre-consumer” waste.  “The majority of our employees are trained at the Hotel at Kirkwood Culinary Program,” said Kyle Davis, the café’s general manager. “They come to us with a clear understanding of the composting program and why it is important to the sustainability of the campus and the community.” 

Fresh and Local Ingredients

Another important part of The Hotel at Kirkwood sustainability mission is to use the freshest local ingredients available. A highly active and successful Kirkwood horticulture program makes this “green” initiative possible.  What started with a few varieties of herbs two years ago has turned into a 4,000 square foot sustainable Chef's Garden providing a large variety of fresh organically grown produce for the restaurant.  "There are so many great elements in this story," said Ewalt. "Not only are Kirkwood's Culinary Arts and Horticulture students getting practical, hands-on experience working with this garden, we're saving money on purchasing and transportation costs, plus providing our customers with fresh and delicious local produce." 

The garden is grown using only sustainable organic practices.  That means no chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.  "The produce from our Chef's Garden is top notch," Ewalt said. "This has been a great experience for everyone involved.  We hope someday soon that we can use the compost we have generated from our hotel food waste to nurture the Chef’s Garden.” Once the vision is complete, The Hotel at Kirkwood Center will be a proud example of full circle sustainability in action; farm to table to farm!