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City scraps food scrap collection after digester shifts focus

City scraps food scrap collection after digester shifts focus

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Madison compost pick-up

A city truck empties three compost bins outside the Harmony Bar & Grill on the city's East Side in 2017 during a pilot food scrap diversion program that ended in 2018. 

Once again, Madison is scrapping its food scrap recycling program.

The city announced Friday that it will close three drop-off sites on July 17 and direct residents to put food scraps into trash bins or backyard compost piles.

City recycling coordinator Bryan Johnson said the voluntary recycling program is ending because the Middleton biodigester that was extracting methane from the food waste is shifting its focus exclusively on cow manure.

Launched in 2020, the seasonal drop-off program was the latest in a decadelong effort to divert food waste from the landfill, where decomposing organic material creates methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

The city collected nearly 8 tons of organic waste at the drop-off sites last year.

That followed a 2019 curbside collection pilot in one West Side neighborhood that proved too labor intensive to be feasible on a citywide basis.

An earlier curbside collection program launched in 2011 lasted six years but failed to grow beyond the test stage and ultimately failed because of contamination — diapers, pet waste, packaging — that most digesters and composting sites aren’t equipped to handle.

“We don’t have a system yet that can accommodate the mistakes we’re going to make,” Johnson said.

For now, Johnson encourages residents to use backyard compost piles or look for ways to reduce food waste altogether by planning meals and shopping trips and finding creative ways to use food before it spoils.

But he said the city remains committed to establishing a citywide diversion program.

“We’re not going to give up on this,” he said. “We’ll figure this out. We just haven’t yet, but we will.”


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