August 22, 2007 | General

Organics Recycling Program Shows Continued Growth

BioCycle August 2007, Vol. 48, No. 8, p. 39
Cart-based food waste collection program brings savings, environmental benefits to program participants.
Andrea Allston

LAUNCHED in 2000 under the leadership of Nancy Nevil, Director of Sustainability and Environmental Services, the recycling program in the City of Plano, Texas has steadily grown. A grant from the North Texas Council of Governments (NTCOG) provided funds for 95-gallon wheeled carts, biodegradable bags, and educational materials to begin this unique program.
Initial participants were the Plano Independent School District, several retail grocery chains (including Albertson’s) and a handful of corporate cafeterias. Today, the vision for a comprehensive organics program in Plano continues to prosper. Table 1 summarizes growth in the program.
In 2004, Plano became the contractor for the North Texas Municipal Water District regional composting program. Plano accepts material gathered through residential collections from neighboring cities of Allen, Frisco, McKinney and Richardson. Wood from Green Builder programs operating in both Plano and Frisco contribute to compost production as well. Yard trimmings and clean wood dropped off at the Custer Transfer Station is diverted to the composting facility in Melissa, Texas.
In 2006, due to the expanded list of cities generating the feedstock, the products formerly known as Plano Pure were renamed Texas Pure. Initially, consisting of only compost and topdressing, the product line was diversified to include soil blend, mulch and colored mulch.
Plano certifies its products by participating in the United States Composting Council (USCC) Seal of Testing Assurance Program, which means the product is both weed and pathogen free. Texas Pure products are produced for local soils and have earned a solid reputation for both commercial and residential landscape applications.
Each year, an increasing number of customers take advantage of the Texas Pure products available bagged or in bulk directly from the City’s two retail locations and multiple retail outlets in the five-city area. Preferred resident pricing as well as non-resident pricing are available for the Texas Pure products. Customers can order products on line as well, allowing residents to either charge the cost to their credit cards or have it charged to their utility bill.
Whole Foods very recently went from collecting their organic waste in 95-gallon carts to having a dedicated 30-yard compactor with an interior chute. Whole Foods, which has participated in the City’s food diversion program since its inception, is the single largest contributor to the organics recycling program. Christopher Day, one of the City’s five commercial recycling coordinators indicates, “Whole Foods switching to an organics compactor could signal a trend for high volume grocers. Although Plano offers a comprehensive and convenient program for organics, recycling several hundred tons of organic waste per year required Whole Foods to seek a more efficient system.”
Businesses continue to be amazed at the quantity of food waste they have thrown away and the resulting cost savings available to them when they divert that material from the landfill. Plano’s Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, which earned the City’s 2006 Environmental Star of Excellence for Outstanding Recycling Newcomer, experienced annual trash disposal savings of $7,476. Instead of having two 8-yard trash dumpsters serviced six days per week, the restaurant now has a single 8-yard trash dumpster serviced six days per week and recycles an average of 15 tons of organic residuals per month!
The Plano Independent School District (PISD) currently has 26 schools participating in the food waste recycling program. This year, collectively, the schools contributed approximately 441 tons to the City’s program.
In 2006, the City received a grant again from the North Texas Council of Governments, a portion of which was used to evaluate the differences in food waste collection from accounts using biodegradable plastic bags. Accounts ranging from grocery stores to restaurants were surveyed regarding their views on how much they would pay for biodegradable bags as well as how they felt the bags impacted their participation in the program. Robert Smouse, Environmental Waste Services Operations Manager said, “The use and benefits of collecting the food waste in biodegradable bags were clearly identified through the grant-funded study/project.”
The city’s list of food waste recycling participants reads like a list of “Who’s Who” in Plano. Companies ranging from the corporate headquarter cafeterias at Alcatel, Perot Systems, Frito-Lay, Texas Instruments and Intuit are among those who participate in this food diversion program. The city’s commercial recycling team provided organics recycling training and resources to the nearby McKinney Wal-Mart’s experimental store staff when it opened its doors in 2006. This Wal-Mart showcases several areas of environmental sustainability through experimenting with materials, technology and processes that aim to reduce amounts of energy and natural resources and reduce the store’s environmental impact. The McKinney retailer transports its organic waste directly to Plano’s compost site. Other generators located outside the City of Plano include Texas Instrument’s Dallas facilities, which transport their food waste from multiple cafeterias to the City’s compost site on a weekly basis. Today, Plano recognizes all local Wal-Mart SuperCenters (5), Sam’s Clubs (2) and the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Store in Plano who contribute to its organics recycling program.
Andrea Allston is a commercial recycling coordinator with Plano, Texas. For more information on Plano’s organics recycling program, contact her or Robert Smouse at andreaa@ or respectively.
Page 40
Carolyn LaFleur and Maia Corbitt
ON A MILD October morning, a group of composting enthusiasts gathers to watch demonstrations of the latest equipment for processing compost feedstocks and products. This is just one of the activities outside the classroom at Compost Camp. Each year, the Compost Advisory Council of the Recycling Alliance of Texas hosts Compost Camp, held at the beautiful Texas Disposal Systems Exotic Game Ranch and Pavilion, just south of Austin, Texas. For some of those present, this is a repeat experience, their second or third time attending Compost Camp. They come back because there is always more to learn, and the surroundings make it an enjoyable experience.
Compost Camp is designed to provide indoctrination with the fundamentals of composting operations, planning and permitting, marketing and other topics. Advanced techniques and alternative technologies are also addressed for those with a composting background. Real world situational exercises are conducted to give attendees the opportunity to ask questions and explore issues they may be facing, with experts who can offer real world advice and expertise.
In a changing industry it is an extraordinary opportunity for hands-on training and networking. “We want to help composters stay ahead of the curve.” says Mark Rose, Area President of Living Earth Technologies (LETCO) and President of the Compost Advisory Council. “Each year we try to add something, making Compost Camp bigger and better than before” says Rose.
The route to the classroom takes you through the exotic wildlife area, which is a portion of the buffer zone next to the Texas Disposal Systems landfill and compost operations. The ranch is home to animals from Africa, Asia Minor, Australia, England, Israel, India, Middle East, New Zealand and Pakistan. See more about the facility at On opening day, camp attendees are treated to a tour of the ranch, landfill, recycling and reuse center and composting operation.
Two and a half days of training include classroom instruction and field exercises taught by industry leaders with years of practical experience. “This is a way for us to promote composting and the use of compost products. Our industry is facing some challenging issues, and we want to provide the kind of information that can help composters address those issues” explains Rose.
As those of us involved in the composting industry know, compost and mulch products have tremendous potential to mitigate the negative impacts of development, build healthy soil, reduce runoff, and improve water quality. However, we also know that there is sometimes resistance to using organic products in such applications. Information about advances in understanding the benefits of compost utilization is important for expanding compost markets and overcoming misconceptions and resistance to using these products. Public concerns about possible issues with compost facilities, such as odor and fires, continue to have a significant impact on the composting industry. Factual information is an important tool for overcoming unfavorable public perception about composting operations and compost products.
Compost Camp is a unique training opportunity for composters and aspiring composters. One attendee from Compost Camp 2006 perhaps said it best, “What a great learning experience and what a great facility!” Compost Camp 2007 is set for October 22-24. For additional information and registration, please visit the Compost Advisory Council website at or contact Sandy Schutze at (512) 689-4700 or
Carolyn J. LaFleur is vice president of the Compost Advisory Council and Principal Civil Engineer with Sustainable Systems Engineering in Woodlands, Texas. E-mail: She authored an article, “Texas City Forges Ahead With Commercial Organics Initiative,” about Plano progress in the September 2003 BioCycle. Maia Corbitt is with the Lower Colorado River Authority, Corporate Environmental Affairs office in Austin, Texas. E-mail:

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