Possible changes to organics recycling programs are being explored
You may recently have received notice from your hauler that there have been changes to your organics recycling program. This was a miscommunication. At this time, no changes have been made to the materials accepted in organics recycling programs.
The county is working with composting facilities, haulers, and cities to reduce the amount of contamination, or materials that don’t belong in the organics recycling, that they receive. It’s likely that there will be changes to organics recycling programs later this year to address contamination.
We will post updates here about changes to organics recycling programs.
Reducing contamination is necessary for the sustainability of organics recycling programs
For composting sites and organics recycling programs to be sustainable, composters must receive organics with very low levels of contamination so they can produce clean, nutrient-rich compost that people want to purchase and use. Compost that contains plastic, glass, and other contaminants is very difficult to sell and can only be used for low-end, low-value purposes.
For some time, there has been a growing concern at the local organics composting facilities about the amount of contamination in the organics they receive. Changes in their operations due to COVID-19 have heightened these concerns. Typically, staff at the compost facilities do some manual sorting of the organics when they are delivered to remove contaminants. Due to COVID-19, staff at the compost sites are no longer manually sorting the organics, meaning more contamination is getting into the composting process and ending up in their finished compost.
The county is working with commercial composting facilities in the metro area to reduce the amount of contamination, or materials that don’t belong in the organics recycling, that they receive.
What contributes to contamination
The county has worked with many businesses, organizations, and schools on starting, improving, and troubleshooting organics recycling programs. From our experience, we have learned that higher levels of contamination tend to happen in the following situations:
- When collecting organics in front-of-house areas from the public or customers. Customers and the general public often find it confusing or don’t take the time to properly sort food and foodservice packaging.
- When there are items available that are not compostable or reusable in employee common areas. For example, items like plastic utensils, individual creamers, and individual coffee packets in breakrooms.
- When enthusiasm and involvement from champions and leaders fades. Without support, people don’t tend to get as much training or reminders, causing buy-in knowledge of how to properly sort to decline.
- When employees are not aware of their recycling or composting options or are not motivated to care about sorting their waste.
What you can do to reduce contamination
Taking the following steps to ensure that the organics recycling collected at your business, organization, or school is clean and free of contamination.
Simplify your waste stream
Simplify your waste stream so that everything served is reusable or compostable. For in-house dining, it is best to use reusable dishes, cups, and utensils. If you are using disposal products, make sure that all of your serving containers, dishes, utensils, cups, and containers are BPI certified compostable so that all waste can go in the organics recycling container.
Assess all items available
Assess all of the items in common areas and breakrooms for staff and make sure they are reusable or compostable. As much as possible, eliminate things like non-compostable plastic utensils and individual coffee creamers. Offer reusable options or things like cream and sugar in bulk.
Make regular training mandatory
Make regular training on waste sorting mandatory. Offer training when onboarding new staff, and require current staff be trained twice per year.
Offer regular training to cleaning and janitorial staff on how to properly sort waste and how to properly empty waste into dumpsters.
Place clearly labeled bins together
Place bins for recycling, trash, and organics recycling together. Make sure waste bins are labeled, that labels are placed properly so they are visible to the users, and that waste bins are lined up with any signage hung on the walls.
Control access to dumpsters
Depending on the location of your dumpsters, consider controlling access to prevent unwanted dumping.