Collection of Organics

Understanding the local infrastructure and compost site operations can help narrow down how you choose to collect food scraps and other organics.

Some questions to answer include:

1. Does the compost site have capacity to accept more materials?

  •  If it is a yard-waste-only compost site, can the facility transition from yard waste (YW) only to also accepting organics food scraps?

2. In what form will local compost sites accept food scraps? Does cost differ by material or how it is collected?

  • Is there a cost difference for yard waste and organics collected separately or together?

In Minnesota, for example, sorts have shown that food scraps make up around a quarter of the total volume in programs where yard waste and food scraps are collected together. Tipping fees for yard waste are often lower than for food scraps. If collected together, all material may be charged at a higher organics tipping fee.

  • Is there a facility where co-collected materials can be separated or would a facility need to be modified or built?

3. Make sure to have a conversation with composters on materials they accept and how they will accept them.

  • Will paper products and compostable food serviceware, etc. items be accepted, or only food scraps?
  • What certifications does your composter require on food-service items?
  • Will organics be required to be bagged or loose?

When collected alone, food scraps can freeze in the bottom of the carts in colder climates. In warmer climates, it can be difficult to get food scraps to easily come out of the cart. Bagged food scraps results in fewer pests, less odor and increased participation.

When collecting food scraps with yard trimmings, a bag may not be needed. In colder climates where yard trimmings is not collected all year, food scraps may still freeze in the bottom of a cart.

4. Distance to the facility

  • How far is the composting facility – how will material get there? Is a transfer station needed?

5. Should you contract with hauler, with composter, or with both? Make sure to include education and program tracking metrics in contracts. Examples include:

  • Education: Report contamination by property, by type, leave educational tag / not service the cart, procedure to remove cart if continuously contaminated.

Reporting: Daily (contamination), weekly, monthly, annual

  • What are the upfront and ongoing costs?  (e.g. carts, trucks, tipping fees, sorting of durable compostable bags, etc.)

The most common food scrap collection methods are as follows:

  • Collect food scraps and other organics in a separate container
  • Collect food scraps and other organics with yard waste
  • Co-collect food scraps and/or other organics in a durable compostable bag with another material stream (e.g. garbage, yard waste)
  • Drop-off programs

This collection method is used often in areas where composters or anaerobic digestion facilities prefer to keep the food scraps and yard waste separate. They may choose to do this to aid in their own operations or it may be due to state siting, design and operation requirements.

This collection method often has higher upfront costs than other collection methods, but offers several tracking and program evaluation benefits that are more difficult or more costly to calculate than other collection methods.

Ability to measure amount of food scraps and other organics divertedCost of carts for participants
Ease of tracking participationCost for new trucks (entire new routes needing trucks and personnel or new split-body trucks) Note that in some communities, they switch collection of garbage or recycling to every other week to accommodate weekly organics collection.
Ease of evaluating and controlling
More trucks on the streets (unless split-body trucks are used)

Newburyport, Massachusetts

The city started a curbside collection service with Black Earth Compost in 2015. Residents can opt-in and subscribe for the service. The town also offers the separate collection of yard waste, thus, Black Earth Compost does not accept this material in their curbside containers.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

An organics recycling pilot program was started in Minneapolis in 2008. The City rolled out the program citywide in 2015-2016. Organics and other compostable items are collected weekly from residents who sign-up to participate (all residents pay for the service whether they choose to participate or not). Residents in 1-2 unit buildings are provided a 32-gallon cart and residents in buildings with 3 or more units are provided a 64-gallon cart. Yard waste is collected separately mid-April through mid-November.

Collecting food scraps and organics with yard waste is very common in the U.S. It has lower upfront costs for communities that already have yard waste collection as it allows the same trucks and containers to be used (if a container is provided for yard waste). Adding food scraps and other organics to an existing yard waste program may be less costly than other collection methods.

Use existing routes, trucks and personnelMay increase processing costs per ton
Use existing carts (if carts are provided)Challenges in tracking households diverting
food scraps and other organics
Less liquid in truck as yard material soaks up liquid from food scrapsChallenges in getting accurate diversion
weights for food scraps and other organics
separate from yard waste
Higher yard material diversion rate as people can divert yard material all year instead of just during seasonal pick upMore difficult to see contamination in the cart
Seasonal truck capacity issues with established routes

Portland, Oregon

The City previously offered biweekly pickup of yard waste, and expanded to weekly service of yard waste and food scraps in 2011. Recycling and compost pickup is offered at ‘no-cost,’ as residents pay for trash pickup and corresponding cart size. The success of the program: after 1 year 38% less residential waste went to the landfill and 3x more organics were composted. Portland Composts! Program

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The City of Milwaukee started a curbside collection service in 2014 with Compost Crusader and focused on a 64-gallon cart to accommodate yard and food scraps diversion. Weekly collection is from April-Nov and every other week collection from Dec-March. Residents paid a monthly subscription to be a part of the program and it was a voluntary program. The city does seasonal yard collection by residents putting leaves and yard material into the street.

In this collection method, food scraps and other organics are put into a durable compostable bag that is put in the same cart as either garbage or yard waste at participant’s homes. After collection, trucks bring the co-collected materials to a transfer station where the durable compostable bags are separated and sent to a composting or anaerobic digestion facility. 

This collection method is increasingly being considered to offer a food scrap and other organics diversion program without increasing the number of trucks on the streets.

Use existing routes, trucks and personnelMay increase costs due to sorting at transfer station
Use existing cartsChallenges in tracking households diverting food scraps and other organics
Challenges in getting accurate diversion weights for food scraps and other organics separate from yard waste
More difficult to see contamination in the cart

Medicine Lake, Medina, Osseo, St. Bonifacius, Wayzata in Hennepin County, Minnesota

These cities offer organics collection in certified compostable blue bags which are placed in resident’s trash carts for co-collection. The durable blue bags are removed from the trash at a transfer station. Although this service is available to no additional costs, residents must sign up for the program.

Drop-off programs

Drop-off organics programs work well in rural areas and/or in areas with more high-rise apartment complexes. They are also often opened in communities to get residents started in diverting food scraps and other organics for composting. Many citywide programs started off with drop-off sites.

Fewer carts/dumpsters, trucks, and
personnel required
Challenges in tracking participation
Less costly that curb or alley collectionLess convenient than at home option
Potential increase in contamination
(unmonitored drop-offs)
Communication challenges with residents
using drop-off sites
Increased potential for illegal dumping

Container size

Evaluating container size options comes after determining how participants will sort organics and understanding the local infrastructure. Some communities collect organics via bicycle or pick-up truck. Others pick up using commercial waste vehicles that are manual, semi-automated, or fully automated. Common container sizes used include:

  • 5 gallon pails
  • 12 gallon bins or carts
  • 32 gallon carts

Smallest size to fit on tipper of most semi-automated and automated trucks

  • 64 gallon carts

Largest size for food scraps alone due to weight of organics and cart capabilities

  • 95 gallon carts

Common for food + yard waste programs

  • Dumpsters

More common for multi-units and commercial

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