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Capping Food Waste for Compost

A hauler, compost facility and Waukesha, Wis., grocers are working together to divert food waste from landfills and create compost, thanks to a three-month pilot program created by WasteCap Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

As part of the pilot, which began in February, Best Disposal Inc. heads to several area grocery stores twice per week to collect food discarded by grocery store produce departments. Stores, which include BKT Sentry Foods-Meadowbrook, Jewel Osco, and Kohl's Food Emporium, are required to separate this food waste in a compost-only bin, and the hauler checks the containers for contamination, weighs the material, loads it, then transports it to the S&R Compost facility where it is mixed with other food scraps and yard debris for decomposition. The materials then are placed in windrows to cure for three months, and the compost is marketed to landscapers and municipalities.

In the program's first seven weeks, 70,660 pounds of food waste were diverted for composting, according to Jenna Kunde, executive director for WasteCap, the nonprofit organization that provides waste reduction and recycling assistance to businesses, and applied for the Milwaukee Foundation grant that is funding the pilot.

"We saw that grocery stores had leftover food scraps and weren't in the business of finding markets for them, and we saw that farmers were busy doing their work and weren't in the business of finding grocery stores … so we wanted to provide that link," Kunde says. "We've seen wonderful things where stores have cut trash collection in half."

As the pilot continues, WasteCap is working with grocery store department managers and staff to explain the separation program. And S&R Compost is testing to see how well food waste breaks down in compost piles, and will determine whether there are enough markets to continue the program after the three months are up.

"Food waste has a lot of nutrients that can be used in soil for a higher quality compost," Kunde says. "We're so pleased to see that [the participants] are able to divert so much of their waste."