The City of Upper Arlington, Ohio (pop. 35,364), opened two drop-off sites for residential food waste collection in 2019. The impetus, explains Katy Rees with the City of Upper Arlington Public Service Department, was interest on the part of residents to have a food waste recycling option. “It was sparked from a household survey we did in 2017 when we were planning a new bid for solid waste services,” says Rees. “The survey asked residents what aspect of the city’s solid waste program was important to them. A number of the respondents expressed a desire for food waste diversion.”
The drop-off program kicked off with several 65-gallon containers at two locations, which quickly grew to a total of 11 containers between the two sites. All food scraps, BPI-certified compostable liner bags and products, soiled paper, and torn up pizza boxes are accepted. GoZERO Food Waste Courier Services (GoZERO) collected the food scraps for composting every other week. Participation was high, leading the city to scale back promotions after the first year because the sites had reached capacity. In August 2020, the city received a grant from the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) to add an additional drop-off location and purchase more carts. The three locations have a total of 17 65-gallon carts. In February 2021, GoZERO began servicing the drop-off sites weekly, which enabled Upper Arlington to begin promoting the program again. GoZERO brings the food waste to a location near its headquarters in Springfield, Ohio, as well as to Andre Farms in Toledo, for composting.
“Since we started weekly collection at the drop-off sites, the amount of food waste collected averages around 3,000 lbs/week,” notes Rees. “All locations are open 24 hours a day. For the most part, contamination is quite low. Conventional plastic bags are the primary contaminant.”
In 2021, Upper Arlington participated in an EPA-grant funded study in collaboration with SWACO (recipient of the $60,000 grant) and The Ohio State University (OSU). The study was designed to measure the baseline of food waste behaviors in Upper Arlington and subsequently explore how a consumer education campaign would change behaviors to reduce food waste. “Two test areas and two control areas in the city were established for the study,” explains Rees. “An initial survey was done to help determine how much food waste these residents generate in a week or month, followed by a physical audit of their trash cans to measure the amount of food waste produced. Then we started the consumer education campaign in the two test areas, sending out a lot of literature about food waste, how to prevent wasted food, and opportunities to divert food not consumed to composting. The campaign took place throughout 2021.” (Study findings are expected to be released soon.)
One question in the initial survey was whether the household was composting at home or using the city’s food waste drop-off sites. If they responded no, the next question was would they be more willing to participate in food waste diversion if there were a curbside option. “The overwhelming response was yes, they would be more apt to participate if collection was offered curbside,” adds Rees. “We applied for and received a $75,960 U.S. Department of Agriculture Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction Grant to launch a curbside pilot. The city also budgeted about $25,000. Residents will not pay a fee during the pilot program.”
The pilot started in late March and runs through September 2023. Materials accepted are the same as the drop-off program. The city is partnering with GoZERO Services to provide weekly curbside collection for up to 600 single-family households. All participating households had to sign up in order to receive collection. “Households have to make a commitment that they will participate in the program every week for the duration of the pilot, excepting when they are out of town,” says Rees. “Several people withdrew from the pilot when learning about the commitment, noting they were better suited for the drop-off program. GoZERO will record the amount of material in the bucket each week, noting if it is full, half full, if the container wasn’t set out, whether there is contamination, etc. I will get notified if follow up is needed with a household. Collecting this information will give us a better idea of our needs going forward, e.g., if food waste should be collected separately, or collected in the same container as yard waste.”
The program began in April with 100 single-family households receiving a 5-gallon collection bucket lined with a BPI-certified bag. GoZERO removes the filled bag, and relines the bucket with a new bag. Additional households will be added every few months, with complete roll out to all participating households in early 2023. To create route density, an attempt is being made to group participating households in the same neighborhood as the pilot rolls out. Loads will be weighed after each collection route is completed.
Data from the curbside pilot will inform the viability of rolling out collection city-wide. There are 13,500 households receiving solid waste services. Under the current contract, which expires in March 2023, weekly collection of yard waste is provided, with collected material going to Ohio Mulch for composting. That facility is not permitted to take food waste. “We will be going out to bid for a new contract, and have written the bid so that it will allow for flexibility in establishing a food waste collection service in the future, which could be commingled in the yard waste cart,” explains Rees. “Right now, composting infrastructure available locally is limited.”
She adds that SWACO released a request for qualifications earlier in 2022 for a source separated composting facility. A RFP is expected to be released this fall, with the facility becoming operational by 2025. “When that capacity is available, we can consider expanding the curbside food waste collection program to service all households,” says Rees.