Mill is expanding residential compost collections, offering subscription services nationwide since January 2023. USPS picks up most of the compost food scraps, but now Mill is teaming with a farm on a new delivery model to bring more residents into the fold in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

January 2, 2024

5 Min Read
allotment boy 1 / Alamy Stock Photo

About 510 U.S. communities have food scrap collection programs, reaching 10 million homes, according to a 2021 BioCycle report (the latest available data). But plenty more infrastructure is needed to manage the estimated tens of millions of tons of food tossed yearly at the household level. Private and nonprofit subscription services are popping up to pick up some of the slack.

Compost recycling machine manufacturer Mill is among companies that is off to a small but determined start to expand residential collections, offering subscription services nationwide since January 2023. USPS picks up most of the compost, but now Mill is teaming with a farm on a new delivery model to bring more residents into the fold in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. Plans are to take the concept further if the program goes well.

Phoenix residents put bones, pits, meat, dairy, and other scraps into Mill’s home processor, which dries and grinds them, reducing them by 70 percent to 80 percent in mass and volume.  Partner R.City picks up the preprocessed material monthly and takes it back to its farm to use as chicken feed, soil amendment and for composting.  

The farm operation has done curbside compost food scrap collection in the Phoenix area for years but through this new collaboration can go longer between pickups and with less work because the material is more concentrated, shelf stable, and rendered odorless by filtration technology.

So far, the new service offering has been well received. Leveraging sensors on the bins connected to the Internet, Mill has found that 99% of customers interact with the bin more than twice a day and on average seven times a day, according to Alyssa Pollack, head of Business at Mill. 

Key to getting buy in is asking little of customers, says Matt Rogers, the company’s cofounder and CEO.

“If the success of a solution relies on people radically changing what they’re used to, it is less likely to achieve systems-level impact. The onus should be on the technology—not on the person—to change.

“The Mill kitchen bin has a pedal you step on, and the lid lifts up so you can throw in your kitchen scraps. The behavior change isn’t that different. The real magic happens inside,” Rogers says.

Mill and R.City are playing up on the concept of a local loop to further engage residents, beginning with offering a “farm box” filled with R.City-grown produce.

Customers toss cucumber and carrot tops as well as other scraps from food in their farm boxes into their compost bins, which hold up to 35 to 45 pounds at a time. The scraps ultimately go back into the soil to grow more food.

“We are seeing that this feels powerful for many folks. It’s exciting to them to know they are supporting a local food system,” Pollack says.

Customers get periodic impact reports based on information retrieved from their bins showing how much food they have diverted from landfill and avoided greenhouse gas emissions. The household-level data is aggregated to reflect citywide impact.

R.City Founder J.D. Hill says while his company has done compost food scrap collections for more than ten years, this new project with Mill is generating more interest especially from municipalities and multifamily property owners and managers.

“Our collection method builds the local food system whereas industrial models do not - they are not connected with the food system. The Mill partnership supercharges this model by bringing more households into it that otherwise would not participate,” he says.

Multifamily buildings remain a tough nut to crack, mainly due to the ick factor and smell when consolidating pick up for hundreds of households on one floor or in one dumpster in a basement. Adding to the challenge is that it’s no easy charge to get people to separate food scraps in their apartment and take it to receptacles in communal areas.

Mill has a few pilots in the works hoping to break through the barriers, Pollack says.

The company is also engaging in a pilot in Tacoma, Washington who has long done organics collections but is looking to boost participation.

The city did a waste characterization study several years ago, finding that food waste comprised less than 5% of material by weight in the residential organics collected while it comprised 29% of the garbage stream. 

“Anecdotally, the primary barriers to residential customers diverting food scraps into the organics collection system are lack of education about the program, inconvenience, potential for vectors, and the general ‘yuck’ factor,” says Lewis Griffith, division manager, Solid Waste Management, City of Tacoma Environmental Services.

The pilot is focused on raising awareness around food waste and educating residents on the city’s pay as you throw model, showing them how much they can save in both waste and service fees.

“We would like to see how much customers using the Mill are able to reduce their garbage volume, and potentially reduce their garbage service level as a result,” Griffith says, adding the city is looking to gauge greenhouse gas impact of using the Mill and will have an eye out “to see if the technology mitigates barriers to diverting food waste and how much customers change behavior because of it.”

 “Without a doubt, subscription services for household food scraps collection is a ‘growth industry’ in the U.S. In some states, subscription services are the only providers of residential food scraps collection,” notes BioCycle’s Nora Goldstein.

Service providers are hard pressed to make a go of it, reporting route density, costs to collect, and tipping fees at processing facilities as pain points.

But they are holding out for policy breaks as food waste reduction rules evolve. So far five states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont—have passed laws to divert food from landfills. Policy makers in these regions, and increasingly in others, are eying compost as they look for new homes for the material.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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