Success Stories: Waste Reduction, Recycling, & Feeding Children During A Pandemic

Solid Waste Management

The St. Louis – Jefferson Solid Waste Management District is a regional agency that was created in 1993 to assist the public, private and nonprofit sectors in establishing and expanding programs for recycling and waste reduction. The service area includes the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, Jefferson County and St. Charles County. Funding for this program is provided by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. For more information visit www.swmd.net or call 314-645-6753.

Operation Food Search’s Emergency Response

When the COVID-19 crisis began, and schools closed at the end of March, Operation Food Search (OFS) went into “Emergency Response” mode. Tens of thousands of area children were suddenly without access to school meals, just as businesses closed and families faced financial hardship. Fortunately, as an independent hunger relief organization, OFS was well-positioned to respond to the increase in need. Their policy team navigated changing government regulations that allow free meals to be distributed, while their department of Child and Family Nutrition worked with school districts and community organizations to coordinate a strategy to get meals to kids. The OFS digital team created an interactive map of the more than 600 available distribution sites, which included bus routes, as well as libraries and other community sites. The team also created resources for families to help them find assistance through SNAP (food stamps), stimulus checks and unemployment insurance. They even had the resources translated into six languages.

With food donations down—due to the cancellation of events that OFS relied on to stock their warehouse—the organization had to find new solutions. OFS and their local grocery store partners, food distributors, restaurants, and local farmers significantly increased efforts to rescue fresh food that would otherwise be wasted. More than $10 million in food was diverted from landfills between April and September.

“The silver lining of this crisis has been the way the community has responded to get help to those in need,” says Operation Food Search Communications Manager Jocelyn Fundoukos. “From front porch food drives to financial donations from students wanting to make sure other kids were fed, we’ve seen incredible generosity during this difficult time.” Fundoukos reports that, on top of OFS’s regular distribution effort, which helps 200,000 people per month, OFS has provided an additional one million meals in the bi-state region over the last six months.

Though Missouri food insecurity rates have gone from about 14% to nearly 19%, Operation Food Search is relying on its 40-year history of serving the community, as well as its strong partnerships and generous supporters, to take on the challenge of helping families put food on the table, no matter how long the crisis lasts. To learn more, visit www.OperationFoodSearch.org.

Perennial City Turns Food Scraps Into Farms
Perennial City was founded in 2017 with a mission to help transform vacant, unused land into beautiful and productive urban farms through full circle food production. For these past three years, founders Beth Grollmes-Kiefer and Tim Kiefer, along with their team of couriers have been diverting would-be waste from area landfills and transforming it into nutrient rich compost to grow local food. 

The seeds were sown for this urban agriculture endeavor long before, when the Kiefers first met and immediately got into deep conversation about food and farming. Having a family farm was always their dream. Then one day, Beth came across an article about a service in Arizona that collected residential food scraps for composting and couldn’t wait to tell Tim! This model provided essential elements for a successful family farm — a way to build fertility to enrich and enliven poor soil, plus economic sustainability — all while offsetting significant carbon emissions, reducing waste, and connecting members to full circle food production. Here’s how it works!

Scraps are collected in green buckets from households across St Louis City and surrounding metro. Members can choose to have their buckets swapped each week or every other week and have the option to receive finished compost back each year for their own home gardens. Though many members aren’t gardeners at all — they contribute their scraps to lessen their environmental impact and to grow the local food web. Perennial City offers a simple solution.

In addition to the composting service, produce and cut flowers grown on the Perennial City Farm are made available exclusively for members to have delivered with their bucket swap.  Local artisan goods from Blueprint Coffee, Buttonwood Farm, Companion Bakery, Confluence Kombucha, Ozark Forest Mushrooms (and more!) are also available to have delivered each week. 

What started out as a creative solution to starting the Kiefers’ family farm has turned into a thriving service and Perennial City looks forward to serving St Louis for many years to come!

Perennial City’s current service area includes: St Louis City, Brentwood, Clayton, Des Peres, Frontenac, Glendale, Kirkwood, Ladue, Maplewood, Oakland, Olivette, Richmond Heights, Rock Hill, Town and Country, University City, Warson Woods, and Webster Groves.

Interested in becoming a member? Sign up at perennialcity.com.

Jenny Wendt – Earth Champion In University City For Recycling & More
By Jean Ponzi

In her 21st century job in a community that practiced “Tree Saver” recycling way back in the 1970s, Jenny Wendt leads sustainability projects with energy efficiency, stormwater, biodiversity, green transportation – and of course recycling and other ways of diverting waste.

Jenny is a senior project manager for University City, with a skillful passion for making environmental projects work, economically and for social good. She’s the city staff liaison to the University City Green Practices Commission and leader of the University City Green Team. As a good leader, she works closely with fellow city administrators, city staff, businesses, and residents in University City to sustainably improve the community. 

Through her efforts and collaborations, recent accomplishments include: 

Boosting recycling tonnage at the University City Drop-Off area by 100-200%, depending on the material, and reducing landfill tonnage over the past five years.

Results of a community survey named the University City Recycling Program as the city’s service with the highest level of satisfaction.

Coordinating local retailers, business districts, and volunteers for BYO Bag Day, a regional event that handed out reusable bags and offered incentives for customers bringing their own bags.

Jenny Wendt also works with the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI) and the United Nations Environment Programme as manager of the Plastic Waste Reduction Campaign, a project in collaboration with the mayors of the 124 cities in the 10 states along the mainstem of the Earth’s fourth largest watershed, also the largest navigable river system in the world. Cities and towns along the Mississippi River are tackling plastic marine debris as part of the UN Clean Seas campaign through MRCTI. This collaboration also includes the National Geographic Society, EU Delegation to the US, State Senators, and industry sustainability directors.

A lifelong commitment to environmental stewardship and reducing waste has translated into vocation-level professional achievement for Jenny Wendt, to the benefit of her community and our region. She serves as co-chairperson for the OneSTL Regional Sustainability Plan’s Materials and Recycling Group, a cadre of recycling advocates (who are also friends!) working to reduce waste in the bistate St. Louis metro area (that’s 2.8 million people!) through collaborative efforts among regional experts. Thank you, Jenny Wendt, for extraordinary service to University City – and the communities of Earth!


Associations, Organizations and resources

Local Recycling Information – Government