The cities that I have chosen as my case studies are Madison, WI, Salem, OR, and Waynesboro, VA.
Madison started its pilot composting program, called the Organics Collection Program, in June 2011 and has plans to expand its program in the next several years.
Currently, this program collects a portion of the city’s organic waste (even pet waste) to be converted into biogas and compost. Total, organic waste accounts for 35-40% of all of the waste in Madison’s landfill and a full landfill is actually the main reason that Madison has begun this pilot compost collection program. The city is already on the last two out of eight cells in the landfill and creating a new landfill can take between five and ten years. This composting program will have the benefit not only of putting organic waste to productive use, but also of expanding the life of the landfill and reducing the harmful methane gas produced in the landfill. Currently, the organic material collected in the program is sent to an anaerobic digester which is used to produce methane gas to generate electricity. What is produced after the waste is sent through the biogas facility is sent to a composting facility and the finished compost is used by a landscaping company or sold to other customers. Currently there are 550 households and six businesses in the program, but there are plans to add more participants this year, construct an anaerobic digester in 2016 and expand the program citywide by 2017. There are many benefits to the way Madison is conducting its program. The city is not only providing curbside pickup for the participants, but the city furnished those households with both outside and inside bins for compost collection. This makes it easier on the citizens who are participating in the program for a simpler transition to dividing organic waste from other waste.
In addition, the combined use of the organic waste to produce both biogas and compost is incredibly productive and has benefits even beyond just the food system. Also beneficial is the fact that the program takes all manner of organic waste, including even feminine hygiene products and pet waste. Some challenges the city may face as it moves to expand are the ability of the facilities to handle the volume of organic waste produced (although the construction of the city’s own digester should aid this), the use of the finished compost (maybe a new city ordinance for more gardens/urban farms?), and the integration of the university. Madison is a college town and convincing student houses to participate in the composting program may prove to be a challenge.
Although Portland, OR is often touted as one of the greenest cities in the state and country, a different city actually began a citywide curbside compost program a year before Portland. Salem, OR, a city in Marion County, started its curbside compost program in July 2010 when a nearby composting facility began accepting food waste. Their program picks up yard waste and food waste (meat, produce and other scraps) but is not as all-inclusive as Madison’s program. The waste here is sent to the Pacific Region Composting facility owned by Republic Services and the finished compost is sold to customers. Unfortunately, there won’t be a study conducted on the sheer amount of waste diverted from landfills until later this year. One benefit is that the program does service the entire city, but specific numbers about benefits won’t be known until later. There are two main challenges that Salem faces with its composting program. The first is that the number of trash pickups have stayed the same (weekly) despite the addition of the curbside composting program, which may give citizens a reason to not compost as much they should. In contrast, Portland decreased its trash pickup frequency to every other week once it introduced its composting program. The second challenge is similar to Madison in finding productive uses for its compost. In order to promote a robust and sustainable community food system, the compost should be used in local farms or gardens to produce food for the city.
The final city I will be using as a case study is one that is close to home: Waynesboro, VA. This case study is in many ways a great comparison to Charlottesville. Their pilot program is still very much in its infancy; it began in the fall of 2013. The city’s Rotary Club and Public Works Department came together to purchase composting bins (GEOBINs, specifically) to distribute to interested residents.
Since the program has recently begun, there are not yet specific metrics to demonstrate a calculable benefit but the ultimate goal of the program is to generate interest for a future citywide composting program. This case study is particularly interesting to me because a similar program may make sense for Charlottesville wherein individual composting bins are first distributed to gauge interest in a city program. Additionally, Waynesboro is a small town, like Charlottesville, and is geographically very close, so it shares many of the same resources. The Waynesboro program has been so successful thus far that there is a waiting list for the composting bins and 273 have already been given out. On average, 35% of waste in a landfill is compostable, which would mean significant benefits for the city both in waste reduction and compost production. The goal of the city is to have 20% of the city participating in the program within five years. The program as is has benefits for home gardeners, who can the use the compost they produce, and has benefits for schools as well, because the program includes a focus on compost education in schools. A challenge to this program will be in determining whether it will be expanded to a citywide curbside compost pickup program or a citywide compost bin distribution program, and then enforcing the use of the distributed bins. It will be very interesting to see how the program moves forward and what implications it has for a similar program here in Charlottesville.