By keeping these composting guidelines in mind, you’ll be better equipped to lead your city’s food waste collection toward the next step.

John Sebranek


According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food waste makes up 14.5 percent of the total 250 million tons of municipal solid waste generated each year, yet only about 3.8 percent of this food waste is diverted from landfills. A waste stream of this size seems like low hanging fruit to help meet diversion rate goals, but can be quite daunting to implement since it is relatively new to the North American market.


Many municipalities have implemented curbside collection for paper, aluminum, glass and plastic recycling and have made significant improvements in diverting these materials from their landfills. As they look for ways to increase their overall diversion rates to meet diversion goals, leading-edge municipalities are looking at the next large recycling and diversion opportunity for their residents: food waste recycling. Here are some basic steps you can take to make planning and implementation easier.


Calculate Food Waste Volumes and Develop Strategy and Objectives

If you are serious about implementing an organic waste diversion program, calculating the amount of food waste your community sends to landfills annually is a good first step.  Understanding how much food waste is generated by each of your constituents (i.e. single family homes, multi-residential and commercial) on a weekly basis will help you better define your organic waste collection strategy and objectives. Identifying which segments yield the largest waste can help you prioritize program implementation. For example, many communities start collecting food scraps from commercial operations, such as restaurants and hotels, first because they generate significantly more food waste per “entity” than other segments.


Identify Your Service Partners and Infrastructure Requirements.

Next, identify partners for collection and processing of food waste.  Without these services lined up, it is obviously impossible to implement a food scrap collection program. Are there haulers willing and able to collect food scraps? Are there businesses in your area that process organic waste? Do they have enough capacity to process your current and future volume? Having a strategy and objectives along with food waste data will allow you to develop concrete plans with these partners, especially if they need to invest in new facilities and equipment to meet service requirements. It’ll also be important to use these partnerships during the expansion of the program, as some partners can assist in educating residents and businesses how to best use the new collection program and provide support materials.


Create a Comprehensive Waste Collection Plan

A food scrap collection program simply diverts an existing “waste” stream from a current waste collection program. Therefore, communities should review their entire collection process to determine if food scrap diversion can lead to improvements in recyclables and MSW collection, and encourage even better diversion rates. Things to consider include:

  • Determine how often each waste stream will be collected. Many communities collect food waste weekly, and change trash and recyclables collection to every other week. This minimizes collection costs, and encourages residents to maximize food scrap diversion.
  • Offer a kitchen scrap container to make it easier for residents to collect food scraps at the point of generation.
  • Determine whether to collect food scraps with yard waste (depends on processing technology and desire to control compost recipe).
  • Review the use of compostable bags to reduce the “yuk” factor.
  • Develop residential outreach and education plan for food scrap collection.
  • Start small: Conduct a pilot program to get citizen feedback and tweak before full implementation.
  • Determine whether to implement a “Pay-As-You-Throw” program to encourage even more recycling.
  • Determine whether to make participation mandatory or to ban food scraps from landfill when launching the program.  Both elements can increase diversion rates, but may upset residents.


Get Buy-in From Constituents

Organize a summit to meet with residents, politicians, haulers and homeowners living near proposed food compost sites, processors, etc. to work out details. They can even help to change State regulations for food composting. Identify and communicate motivators for affected parties (i.e. lower trash fees, increased diversion rates to hit recycling goals, etc.). This information can be used as the foundation of the educational material developed to support and launch the program.


Developing Bids for Products and Services related to Food Scrap Collection

There are a variety of program elements that should be covered by contracts. These include collection, processing, carts and containers, home delivery of carts and containers, and maintenance of carts and containers. You’ll have to evaluate whether to include all in the same bid or develop bids for each element.  It is common to develop three separate bids, namely collection, processing, all cart and container components.


Develop an Implementation Pan

So much work is done to put together all the complex elements of a successful program that a plan for home delivery of waste carts and containers is often overlooked. Set the start and finish dates, staging areas and other criteria for home delivery with your selected cart deliver service provider and cart vendor as soon as possible after the bid is awarded to ensure that program launch dates are hit.


Finally, measure progress, such as participation and diversion rates, on a regular basis to improve program results. There are many well-established organic waste collection programs throughout the U.S. and Canada (see Cities Leading the Way sidebar). Look to those communities with programs in place, or those developing programs with an eye to the future and you can work toward enjoying the same successes in meeting diversion goals and/or reducing costs.


Whatever your need, there are ways you can make a dramatic impact on your city’s budget and future by focusing on partnerships to help develop a robust, resident-friendly organic waste collection program. Partnering with experienced vendors will help you complete the puzzle of food waste collection. Your partners should work with you every step of the way, adding the layer of education and experience that will most effectively serve your needs to develop a program that will work for the long haul. Keep these guidelines in mind and you’ll be better equipped to lead your city’s food waste collection toward the next frontier.


John Sebranek is Marketing Manager, Environmental for Orbis Corporation. He can be reached at [email protected].



Cities Leading the Way

  • In New York City, NY, an initiative sparked by Mayor Bloomberg aims to divert 80 percent of the city’s waste stream; potentially saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in waste export costs (“Recycling Food Scraps Could Transform How NYC Deals with its Trash,” 2013).


  • In Portland, OR, a food waste recycling program is driving the city’s recycling rate to 62 percent of its total waste. Residential waste collected curbside in Portland decreased by 38 percent and compostable yard debris and food scrap collections nearly tripled, with nearly 1.2 million tons of materials diverted in 2012. (“Energy savings, Greenhouse Gas Benefits Spring from Oregon’s Recovery of Waste Materials, DEQ Report Shows,” 2013).


  • Toronto, ON, a city which generates 1 million tons of waste each year, has extended the life of the city’s Green Landfill by 1.5 years since 2007 with an 89 percent household participation rate—largely in part to the educational outreach done through various partners (Sustainability Communities Conference, 2013). Sometimes, participation and buy-in from residents makes all the difference.