The Importance of Curbside Collections in Diverting Organics from Landfill

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Decomposing organic waste in landfills creates significant greenhouse gas emissions, with the release of potent methane only worsened by health and safety risks for landfill personnel such as increased fire hazards and the risk of attracting vermin.

With a rising number of cities across the United States embracing zero-waste roadmaps in recent years, organics recycling and curbside collections have developed into a crucial aspect of landfill diversion targets.

The Current State of Curbside Organics Collection

Curbside collections involve single-family or multi-family buildings transferring their food waste, often stored beforehand in a kitchen caddy, to an individual or communal bin placed at the curb, ready for collection. Recycling authority Biocycle provided findings in their latest (2021) nationwide survey that demonstrated there were 172 active curbside-only and curbside and drop off programs in the U.S, covering a total of 318 communities, comprising 5.9m single and multi-family households. 

To address the concerns associated with landfill growth, some states and local governments are taking steps to increase regulatory action by prohibiting organic materials from being disposed of in landfills. Vermont’s ‘Universal Recycling Law’ came into effect in July 2020, banning food waste from landfill entirely, while new legislation to establish private-sector funded composting and organic collection programs has been implemented in Massachusetts and Colorado. Moreover, Los Angeles has recently implemented a food waste task force in order to create composting education and infrastructure.

Why are Curbside Collections so Important?

Curbside collections are crucial as they facilitate organics diversion from residential waste streams, enabling composting processes to convert organic materials into a nutrient-rich resource that improves soil quality for agricultural and environmental benefit.

Keeping organics out of landfills also helps to maintain existing landfill capacity, reducing requirements for additional sites to be established and further encouraging what is a wholly unsustainable practice. By diverting organic waste from landfill sites, curbside organics collections can help reduce the operational costs at landfill sites and provide employment opportunities.

San Francisco has been operating a successful organics waste collection and recycling program since 1996. The program collects 650 tons of residential food waste daily, where it is composted and distributed for agricultural practice, with the resulting produce then distributed back to the city for residential consumption.

Successful curbside collection programs are consistent with corresponding solid waste management programs, recycling diversion targets and sustainability goals, prioritizing a hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle and recovery to encourage a circular economy.

Best Practice Guidelines

To achieve optimum results in terms of diverting organics from landfill and reducing GHG emissions, best management practices need to be in place to guide the design, integration, and operation of curbside collection programs.

Organics Carts for Curbside Collections

metroSTOR organics cart housings have been developed specifically to ease curbside organics collections for multifamily communities by providing a secure, accessible deposit point that enables touch-free access. Integrating hands-free cart housings removes the requirement to handle unsanitary bin lids, with self-closing lids a valuable feature that limits odor by ensuring organics are enclosed immediately when the waste is deposited.

To demonstrate intent, consistent and clearly visible designs and symbols, accompanied by recognizable color coding; green for organics, and multilingual messaging helps users identify and utilize collection points. For densely developed neighborhoods with restricted space to store multiple organics carts, these should be implemented within 40 – 60 yards of each household in the service area on a well-lit, prominent route to encourage use.

Future Outlook

While backyard composting has long since helped redirect organic waste from landfill sites, not all residents have the household space to participate in this process, combined with a shortfall of effective disposal points. Curbside collections maximise the potential for residents to do their part in diverting organics from landfill.

With many cities and regions in the U.S aspiring to establish pathways towards achieving true zero waste society, the ongoing development of curbside organics collection programs can be regarded as an essential aspect for achieving landfill diversion targets, contributing to wider goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.