As municipalities try to become greener with aggressive recycling goals and/or landfill bans, one practical way to increase diversion has been to add food waste to an existing yard waste collection program.
Ann Arbor, Mich., is one city that is trying that through a public-private partnership, and the principals shared their thoughts and concerns at a WasteExpo session.
When the city worked on its new solid waste plan in 2012, it realized that almost half its garbage was food waste, said Tom McMurtrey, solid waste coordinator for the city. The city already provided yard waste collection to all residents and businesses. So officials recommended that Ann Arbor expand its program to include all plate scrapings and to do composting year round, rather than shutting it down for winter as it previously had done.
McMurtrey said adding to the existing season routes proved to be the least expensive option. But it found that it could do the composting cheaper by hiring the private sector to do the work, and Ann Arbor contracted with WeCare Organics in Jordan, N.Y.
“That move saved the city $400,000,” McMurtrey said.
In 2006 Ann Arbor took a step toward this latest program by adding vegetative waste. But now it’s been expanded to all plate scrapings, including meat, bones and BPI-certified compostable plastic bags. “Bags were debated, but we wanted to make it as easy as possible,” he said.
The expanded program is limited to residential, but it includes the entire city. “WeCare needed to buy equipment for the transition, so it just wasn’t economical to do a pilot program,” McMurtrey said.
The city provides free kitchen composting containers, and larger composting carts can be purchased for $25.
“It’s just been a month, so it’s hard to know how it’s going – but no odors,” McMurtrey said. “Ann Arbor is a community that really cares about recycling.”
When WeCare was presented with the proposal by Ann Arbor, “the predominant concern for us was odor,” said Mike Nicholson of WeCare. “We needed to hit the material as soon as we could.” So it planned to have a grinder on site full-time, versus part-time previously.
We Care also was concerned about contaminants, that residents would add garbage to the compostable material. “So far, it looks pretty good,” he said. “It’s an educated community.”
It was difficult for the company to determine the cost of the program for the city, but WeCare went with Ann Arbor’s estimate of 15,000 tons processed a year.
And while Ann Arbor may embrace green efforts, both entities wanted to show the economic value in the new program. ‘Our goal is taking it out of the landfill and processing it for less cost,” Nicholson said.
Ann Arbor now provides the new program for 24,000 residents and has issued 13,000 carts.
To help with programs such as Ann Arbor’s, the U.S. Composting Council has established a Curb to Compost Toolkit on its website. The association wanted to gather widely dispersed resources into one central source, said Leanne Spalding of the group.
“A lot of leaders wonder, ‘where do I begin?’ The tool kit gives an overview of how to approach organic recovery,” she said.