Wilted heads of lettuce, mushy tomatoes and overripe melons are now contributing to the environment instead of burdening it.

Wilted heads of lettuce, mushy tomatoes and overripe melons are now contributing to the environment instead of burdening it.

Viridiun, a Georgia-based food recycler, has partnered with Ohio Mulch to take the discarded produce and turn it into rich garden compost and topsoil.

Viridiun, which also hauls compostable material, recently opened a Westerville office.

The company now counts the Kroger Co., Chipotle and American Electric Power among its local clients.

At a gathering Feb. 28 at the Brewery District Kroger store, a test store for single-stream recycling program, officials from Viridiun, Ohio Mulch and the grocery chain gathered to celebrate the new arrangement.

"It's a great beginning," said Steve Grossman, an environmental consultant for Viridiun. "It's a great opportunity."

Chris Smith, sustainability manager for Ohio Mulch, said the company will process all the discarded food waste at its Delaware facility.

Ohio Mulch previously got the enriched soil from Michigan and Indiana, so the new relationship with Viridiun saves time and money, he said.

"From a sustainability aspect, our company can now save on fuel costs because we're not driving out of the state to get the premium soil we're able to create it here right in Columbus," he said.

Smith said when the food waste arrives, it is immediately mixed with yard waste, which alleviates the smell and begins the composting process.

The composting material is stacked in a windrow, where it stays for 45 days. Once it composts and "cooks out" the impurities, the matter is run though a screener to filter out the yard waste, leaving only soil.

It continues to compost for up to 100 more days to complete the process, Smith said.

Pine fines, peat and sand are added to the mixture to enhance the nutrient value to sustain plant health, he said.

Viridiun has been collecting food recyclables from 124 Kroger stores in the Columbus division for a year and a half.

Marne Fuller, retail operations manager for Kroger, said the grocery chain has been composting food waste since 2008, diverting 22 million pounds of organic material from Ohio landfills.

Randy Abrams, who's in charge of business development with Viridiun, said until now, there hasn't been a major local food-recycling service available for hotels, restaurants, grocers and large corporations with cafeterias.

The next step is getting the word out, he said.

Abrams said the company is working with the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Restaurant Association and other trade groups to let businesses know the service is available.

Viridiun's Columbus office was established with the help of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which awarded the company a $250,000 grant toward the purchase of Ohio-made trucks used for hauling the material.