Before you think too big, do your research and test it.
To help determine the scale or size of a composting operation, it is important to understand the amount and types of organic waste that will be arriving for production. Conducting a municipal waste audit is a good way to understand not only that, but how much can be diverted from the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream.
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 business locations to support them in their food rescue and food diversion goals.
There are a number of consulting firms (many of whom are USCC members) who perform waste audits and waste composition studies. These are very helpful in sizing your programs and making decisions about whether to handle materials in-house, what feedstocks you will be generating, and potential cost savings from composting, among other things. Here you will find several bids that have been used by organizations seeking this service (this is not an endorsement of the RFPs listed, but serves as an example for drawing up your own procurement documents).
In addition to conducting a waste audit, a pilot program can help better understand the what is actually happening in your region. It can also help gain momentum 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 drop-off sites in addition to curbside collection. It could be rolled out just to “test” neighborhoods or routes. Then, the size of the pilot program can be scaled up over time with lessons learned. 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 to reduce odors and vectors.
It’s good to start with a manageable pilot size (i.e. 500 or 1000 households) to ease the learning curve for everyone involved: from the residents, to 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 — they are the next line of defense to prevent contamination from arriving at 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 about the issue and why their bin choice was incorrect. A best practice is to follow an educational tag up with a letter to the owner. In a similar way, the composting facility operator should also be inspecting each load and providing information back to the municipality or customer-generator on the quality of material they bring to the site.