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Welcome to the official web page for the City of Madison's household organics pilot program. The purpose of this web page is to provide updated information on the program to the volunteers who are participating in the program and let all Madison residents know about the program and how it is working.

To comment on the program or to ask questions please call the city recycling office at 608-267-2626 or send an e-mail to gdreckmann@cityofmadison.com.

A flyer with a list of that is accepted in the program is available here.

Organics Pilot Newsletter

Read the first edition of the organics pilot newsletter.

What is the Organics collection Pilot Program?

collector

The City of Madison is conducting a pilot project to test the feasibility of a citywide household organics collection. During this pilot program the Streets division will collect organic material from volunteer households in the designated pilot area. The pilot collection program began on June 7th, 2011. Additional households were added to the program in 2012 and there are now five businesses in the program, the Madison Children's Museum, the Fair Oaks Diner, Ian's Pizza, the Concourse Hotel, and American Family Insurance.. The program is funded through 2014. Organics are collected form the participating household weekly. All of the volunteers are in the Tuesday refuse collection district. The material collected is being taken to the anaerobic digester at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. (You can learn more about the UW Oshkosh Digester ).

why collect organics?

Methane Gas Emissions

Organic materials will decompose in a landfill so most people think that they are not as big a problem as say Styrofoam or old furniture. But, that is not true. Organic materials are a major contributor to almost every problem facing modern landfills. As they slowly decompose, organics generate lots of methane gas. While a lot of methane is captured and used to make electricity, over 50% of the methane escapes into the environment. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, 23 times worse for the environment than the carbon dioxide emissions from cars and coal fired power plants.

Leachate

Organic materials are high in moisture content. This moisture travels through the landfill picking up chemicals and toxins from the other materials buried there. This harmful stew is called leachate. Landfills have leachate collection systems, but these systems can become clogged by loose trash. The liners of landfills also develop cracks over time and this allows leachate to seep out and penetrate our groundwater.

A Higher Calling

The organic materials we discard are rich in nutrients that are too good to waste. Diverting organics to a a compost system and turning the material back into soil as nature intended is one goal of our program. We can also use organics to generate renewable energy if we use an anaerobic digestion system (AD). An AD system will produce lots of valuable compost, but it is also designed to capture all of the methane (biogas) that is generated during the digestion process. The biogas can then be used to power a generator or fuel cell to produce electricity or used as fuel for collection vehicles. For more on anaerobic digestion...

What Materials Are Being Collected?

plate scraping

The most obvious answer is that we are collecting food scraps. Any discarded fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and bones are accepted. House plants, weeds, and small amounts of regular yard waste are also welcome in the program. There are lots of other compostable materials as well included paper towels, paper napkins, paper plates, pizza boxes, and any paper product too contaminated to be recycled. We are also taking pet waste of all kinds.

Many of these items cannot be safely composted in a backyard compost bin. However, they will compost quite nicely in a large scale compost system where temperatures are high enough to kill any harmful pathogens.

What's Next?

Image of vegetables

The pilot program will help us determine the cost of a separate collection program for organic material. We are also going evaluate composting options, the energy potential of our material, and the opinions of the volunteers about what did and did not work during the test run. The City of Madison hired a consultant, OWS Inc., to do an economic feasibility study for a Madison Digester. The report shows that we can build a digester that could be be cost competitive with landfill disposal in the long term. You can view the Executive Summary of the report here.

Funds for design work and financial planning system selection were included in the 2014 City Budget. The pilot program will be expanded in July, 2014. We will be adding 1,600 households, 8 to 10 restaurants and one grocery store. We will also be expanding the program to include some multifamily rental properties and at least one condominiums property. We will be doing engineering, site work, and system selection in 2015. Construction of the digester is planned for 2016 with the start of curbside residential collection being phased in in 2017.

At this time is appears that the best location for a digester will be adjacent to new City Fleet Services facilities that will be built on a site on Nakoosa Trail on the east side. This location will allow the digester to supply electric power, heat, and cooling for the new facilities and CNG fuel for any City vehicles.