Business plan and community engagement

Developing a business plan or community outreach program is essential to a resilient organics recycling program and sustainable composting operation.

A good starting point is engaging the community to get all stakeholders involved and help them understand composting operations, the benefits and potential costs and begin to educate residents on source separation of organics (SSO) and issues with contamination.

Community relations is an important component. The composting operation should seek to be a good neighbor and operate in harmony with the community and ensure to do the extra steps necessary to be a good neighbor since odor management can be a key issue with surrounding neighbors. A community public relations plan should be considered with initial action items including signage for compost operations with contact information posted at the composting facility entrance. In addition, a community outreach effort might include an initial postcard mailing with contact information and telephone number and describe how finished compost will be marketed. For example, education at organized events for schools, community activities, about the program and how compost will be sold is encouraged.

Site location and permitting

A composting facility should be sited with the necessary space to facilitate the composting operations for source separated organics (SSO). Operations include a receiving and mixing area, composting pad, yard trimmings storage area, and finished compost storage area. Traffic flow pattern should also be part of the operations planning.

If the municipality has an existing yard waste composting facility that can be permitted to accept food waste, this could be a good potential location for food scraps composting. Or a composting operation could be added to an existing solid waste facility or transfer station. There are efficiencies for adding composting operations to an existing solid waste facility site. The basic equipment needed for the composting operations is usually available at these locations including a front-end loader with a bucket for material handling, material mixing and building piles, chipper for managing tree debris to reduce particle size for use as bulking material, and screening equipment to remove overs for a finished compost product.

The scale or size of the operation to service the area is determined by what you are permitted to accept, the amount and type of inbound feedstock, and potential end-use markets for the finished compost products. It’s always recommended to start small and scale up over time. For example, if your existing yard waste composting facility is permitted to take in 10,000 tons of yard trimmings, you might only be allowed to accept 5,000 tons of food scraps for inbound material of 15,000 tons annually. Each state has regulations for permitting food scraps composting operations, so you will need to check with your Health Department or Public Works Department, State Department of Environmental Protection, or other regulatory agency. For more information about state regulations, visit the USCC State Regulations web page.

Funding operations

With some initial research and outreach, identify funding sources for startup operations and how to maintain the facility. Check for state grants and EPA funding for organics projects. These grants might be available for feasibility studies to understand the potential for a composting operation. If the composting operation is part of the public works, there could be funding through taxes or municipal enterprise funds. For more information about funding, please visit these resources: USCC State Regulations, USEPA, and USDA.

Sources of revenue are generated through tipping fees and finished compost sales. Both require marketing to establish contracts for feedstocks and building customer end-markets. The composting operation could start to accept source-separated organics (SSO) from local commercial entities and yard debris and woody materials from commercial landscapers for tip fees. In addition to the yard waste feedstock that is already onsite at the existing yard waste composting facility, the compost operation can begin to work and get familiar with the inbound material and types of contamination, and build a composting recipe that works for their operations, and then include a residential drop-off of SSO. Knowing what materials are available, in what volume, and frequency are all factors to consider for developing a feedstock recipe. For more ideas about food scraps collection, visit the USCC Feedstocks web page.

Securing advocates

Having support from residents, community advocates, personnel, and elected officials can help get a program started. In some communities, programs have started due to resident interest. In other communities, programs have been brought forward by personnel or elected officials as a way to help improve diversion rates or meet city or state goals.

Having internal meetings and holding community events will help residents, personnel and elected officials understand what an organics recycling program is and why getting one started is important. These actions may seem simple, but they can go a long way in getting support and help the program be successful.

Amount of organics

To help determine the scale or size of the composting operation, it is important to understand the amount and types of organic waste. Conducting a municipal waste audit is a good way to understand how much organics can be diverted from the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream. The waste study can identify what percentage of the MSW could be diverted for composting based on the planned composting operations facility type and materials accepted in your municipality or region. The data collected from the waste audit can also assist the municipality to look at improving recycling rates. Using US EPA data, a typical single-family household can create five pounds of source-separated organics (SSO) per week. This can be anywhere from 1 – 4 bags (2-3 gallons bags) of organics.

If you live in a state without a commercial organics ban, a waste audit can also include commercial entities to support businesses in their food rescue and food diversion goals. To find assistance in conducting waste audits, please visit the USCC’s Product & Services Directory.

In addition to conducting a waste audit, a pilot program can help better understand the actualities in your region. It can also help begin to gather support for the program from residents. Launching a residential pilot program for organics collection requires early and continued marketing, education, and a dedicated truck.

A residential pilot program could include one or more drop-off sites in addition to curb or alley collection. It could be rolled out to specific neighborhoods or routes. The size of the pilot program can be scaled over time. Regardless of the size and type of pilot program, the amount of organics collected will need to be managed the same day that the material is received at the compost site. Composting organics the day it is received helps reduce odors and vectors.

It’s good to start with a manageable pilot size (i.e. 500 or 1000 households) as there is a learning curve for everyone involved including the residents, the organics route driver, and the composting operation. Expanding the pilot can be done by phasing in new areas or routes over time.

Much like the initial education and roll-out, intense education and outreach should be completed as each phase of a pilot roll-out. This can help residents properly participate and reduce contamination. Education for the collection crews is equally as important as they are the next line of defense to prevent contamination from going to the composting site. Crews should be taught to ‘tag’ and leave organics carts that contain non-compostable materials. The tag should be positive in nature to educate the residents of the issue and why their organics cannot be accepted. A best practice is to follow an educational tag up with a letter to the property. The composting facility should also be inspecting each load and providing information back to the municipality on the quality of material diverted.

As rolling out a curbside program is a major undertaking that affects every resident in the community and therefore will attract coverage by the local media. When combined with a pre-launch media campaign, the launch period provides an opportunity for weekly updates on the successes and challenges of the program with an emphasis on the successes while pointing out the most prevalent contaminants. Phased-in programs effectively executed provides an opportunity to establish a standard for “zero visible” contamination that can easily be maintained.

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