City of
Madison

In 2019, the Streets Division performed an 8-week curbside collection trial.

Food scraps from this trial were hauled to the anaerobic biodigester in Middleton that primarily processes waste from dairies.  The methane released by the decomposting food scraps was captured and used to generate electricty, while the solids were transformed into compost.

The next steps for the food scraps program are still under consideration.

Plans for 2020 about what this program will look like will be announced in the coming months.

what could volunteers place into their wasted food cart?

They should have followed the directions on this guide.

  • Fruits & Vegetables
  • Fruits and vegetables can be placed into the wasted food cart.
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Coffee grounds can be placed into the wasted food cart.
  • Dairy Products
  • Dairy products (cheese, milk, yogurt, etc.) can be placed into the wasted food cart.
  • Baked Goods & Pastas
  • Baked goods and pastas can be placed into the wasted food cart.

If volunteers did not follow the guidelines, the carts were not be collected by the food scraps collectors. Instead, a trash collector dumped the cart and the material went to the landfill.

 

try the app!

Another tool that volunteers used to learn what can and cannot go into the wasted food cart was a food scraps app!

The Streets Division has partnered with ERbin to supply a searchable app for participants of the pilot. 

The ERBin app is available on the Google Play and Apple app stores.  The app is also available at the ERbin website.

what was banned from the wasted food carts?

Below is a partial list of what could not be placed into the wasted food cart. 

If your cart contains these items, or other non-compostable items, cart contents will be sent to the landfill.

  • Bones
  • Egg shells
  • Seafood shells
  • Nut shells
  • Corn cobs
  • Nopales
  • Yard waste
  • Brush
  • Food wrappers of any kind
  • Food packaging
  • Plastic items of any kind
  • Compostable plastics of any kind (cups, cutlery, bags, etc.)
  • Pet waste
  • Diapers
  • General trash
  • Stickers that are on fruits and vegetables
  • Glass items (bottles, jars, etc.)
  • Metal items (cans, aluminum foil, etc.)
  • Tea bags (see explanation below)
  • Chopsticks and other bamboo utensils
  • Other very hard items like peach pits and avocado seeds

 

what made this trial different than the previous attempt?

The purpose of the trial was to gather useful information that we can use to better plan a full-scale citywide food scraps recycling program when the opportunity is available.

Carts were inspected at the curb before they are dumped into the truck.  And those containing contamination were left behind for a trash collector to empty to send the material to the landfill. One goal of the trial was to see if iinspecting the carts at the curb is an effective method of controlling the contamination.

The trial should also reveal how much additional labor/personnel is necessary to perform curbside inspections prior to emptying, and if that is something that can be scaled up for a citywide program.

And this trial lasted for just eight weeks.

 

answers to other likely questions that volunteers found useful during the trial

Can I use bags for the food scraps that go into my cart?

Not using bags is the best choice.

If you elect to bag the food scraps, use only brown paper bags, or similiar untreated paper. Using newspaper (not the advertisements, just the newsprint) to wrap food scraps is okay, too. 

Do not use compostable plastic bags. Do not use biodegradable plastic bags. Do not use regular plastic bags. Do not use gift bags, or cardboard boxes.

I cannot put bones, eggs, and shells into the wasted food cart.  Why?

When ground up, these hard materials act like sandpaper in this anaerobic digester's system and can damage the pipes.

I cannot put yard waste and brush into the wasted food cart.  Why?

Yard waste and brush can clog in the digester system.

I cannot put compostable plastics, or containers and cutlery into the wasted food cart. Why?

It can be quite confusing to tell which containers and cutlery are actually compostable and which ones are not.  The same is true for other plastic-appearing items. For the purposes of this trial, we are avoiding this problem and requiring that these kind of items be kept from the collection cart.

I cannot put food packaging and food wrapping into the cart.  Why?

Most food packaging, like butter wrappers and potato chip bags, are not compostable. They belong in the trash.

What about chopsticks or bamboo utensils? Are those okay?

No, not for this program. Chopsticks and other wooden utensils behave like brush or sticks that can lead to blockages in the digester.

Why can't I put tea bags into the wasted food cart? That doesn't make any sense.

Tea bags are more complicated than what you would assume. Some have metal staples. The strings can be a problem digester system and not compost correctly. And some tea bags are actally plastic. Due to all of these complications, no tea bags.   The tea leaves inside the bags would be okay, but not the whole bag & string.

 

 

OTHER COMPOSTING OPTIONS

If you are interested in composting your food scraps at your home or business today, these composters may be able to offer the service to your for a collection fee:

Commercial entities may also want to consider inquiring with Sanimax to see if they can offer food scraps services.  Commercial entities are also encouraged to contact the company that presently hauls their refuse and recycling to see if a food scraps program is an available service.

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