Brandon Knudtson, refuse and recycling coordinator for Hilltopper, is launching an organic material collection program, the first of its kind in the Coulee Region, in late August or September, partnering with Festival Foods, the People’s Food Co-op and Green Earth Compost to transform food scraps to nutrient-rich soil. “Obviously in our area we have Xcel Energy burning waste for energy, but there’s still a portion that ends up in the landfill,” Knudtson says. “My estimate is one container at each of the five locations will divert close to 200 tons of waste total per year from the landfill.”

Comparatively, Hillview Urban Agriculture diverts about 15,000 pounds, or 7.5 tons, of food waste annually, using worms to break down scraps from UW-La Crosse food services, Mayo Clinic Health System and Western Technical College. Knudtson started working on the organic material collection “passion project” 18 months ago, looking for a sustainable way to process non-dairy or meat food remnants of large quantities.

In early spring, Knudtson discussed the plan with representatives from Festival Foods and the People’s Food Co-op, who signed on to receive a container for food waste from their establishments. Four Festival locations in La Crosse, Holmen and Onalaska, as well as the co-op, will pay a weekly fee for Hilltopper to collect the contents and transport it to Green Earth Compost in Holmen. Green Earth will be paid from the charges billed to the participating stores.

“Festival is interested in participating in this new program with Hilltopper because it’s the right thing to do,” said Cody Sandahl, energy and material recovery manager for Festival Foods. “One of Festival’s core values is to make a positive difference in the communities we serve, and I think this program is a great example of one of the many ways we can achieve this.

“By diverting food scraps, imperfect produce and fruit and veggie trimmings for composting, we’re changing what would be ‘normal’ for the grocery industry in a way that makes a positive difference in the community and for the planet,” Sandahl said. “Composting prevents a valuable source of material from going to waste and allows the nutrients to be put back into the soil. We are thrilled to partner with Hilltopper and hopeful that the momentum for this program will continue to grow in La Crosse County.”