How Composting Apples is Helping Preserve the Grand Canyon

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Operation Shrivelly Apples, an award-winning environmental program, began with a dried-up apple and a discerning park employee. In 2013 a Grand Canyon National Park Lodges staff member suggested that the shrunken apples, not pretty enough for park guests, be fed as treats to mules, which are not finicky about what they munch. The program grew quickly. Now prep cooks in all of the park’s South Rim restaurants place melon rinds, broccoli stalks, carrot shavings as well as shriveled apples, carrots and other vegetables and fruits in five-gallon buckets earmarked for the mules. Porters carry the buckets to the stable where the scraps are weighed, recorded and given to the waiting mules.

As a result, in 2014, Operation Shrivelly Apples diverted 30,000 pounds of food scraps from landfills and the happy mules produced 1.5 million pounds of manure that was processed into compost by a Flagstaff company. In 2015 Grand Canyon National Park Lodges received a 2015 Environmental Achievement Award from the National Park Service for Operation Shrivelly Apples.

“The reason for diverting solid waste from the landfill is to increase the life of the landfill. Doing this also helps protect open spaces and reduces pollution,” says David Perkins, director of sustainability, Grand Canyon National Park Lodges. “As a company we can drive the market to decrease the costs of waste diversion from landfills.”

Mules eating applesXanterra Parks & Resorts

Veterinarians keep close track of the scraps and the amounts given to mules; they are doing well. “These kinds of programs can be inspiring to employees and to guests,” says Perkins. “People expect us to do these kinds of things and the programs boost employee morale.”

The program will expand in 2016, enabling park guests to help. Lodge rooms will have composting trash cans and in food court areas guests will be able to toss their own apples, banana peels and appropriate items into specially marked composting bins.

Phantom Ranch, the only accommodations located below the canyon rim, conducts its own composting program. Last year 18,000 pounds of food scraps were put into silos. The resulting compost is used for ground cover in the stables, thus reducing the food waste hauled out by the hard-working mules. In 2016, Phantom Ranch will explore creating its own food scrap mule-feeding program.

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