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Health, Science, Environment

Compost at the curb: Experiment could spur food waste pickup throughout St. Louis County

Food waste being dropped off Total Organics Recycling's facility in St. Louis.
Total Organics Recycling
Composting company Total Organics Recycling began collecting food waste from residents in Brookside, a Maryland Heights subdivision.

Residents in a Maryland Heights subdivision are dropping off their food scraps near the street for composting in the first Missouri program to collect food waste at the curb.

In June, composting company Total Organics Recycling, Republic Services and St. Louis County began the service to residents of the Brookside subdivision. The program is funded by a $26,340 municipal waste grant made possible by landfill tipping fees. The grant pays the cost of providing collection bins and having Republic Services haul the waste to Total Organics Recycling’s facility in Maryland Heights. There is no cost to residents. 

Food waste constitutes more than 10 percent of all waste disposed of in Missouri, according to a study the Missouri Department of Natural Resources published in January.

Composting keeps food waste out of landfills, creates mulch that can be used for gardening and improves the environment, said Sara Koziatek, marketing coordinator for Total Organics Recycling.

“When you are throwing organic materials, such as food scraps, into landfills, it creates methane gas, which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” Koziatek said. “Whereas when you’re composting, it does not release the gas. Composting has been going on naturally since before dinosaurs were on the planet.”

Total Organics Recycling aims to enroll 400 residents in the program, which will end by June 2019. Total Organics Recycling and St. Louis County officials selected Brookside for the pilot program, because residents there demonstrated strong recycling habits, Koziatek said. Its location is close to Republic Services’ and Total Organics Recycling’s facilities. Residents can receive a three-gallon collection bin for their kitchens and a 36-gallon bin they can wheel to the curb.

Total Organics Recycling accepts nearly all kinds of food waste, except fats, oils and grease. The company already collects food waste from the Saint Louis Zoo, Boeing, Nestle Purina and other nonprofits and companies in St. Louis. However, residential collection has been slow to launch in the St. Louis region because landfill fees are lower in the Midwest than on the coasts, Koziatek said.

“On the coasts, it’s mandatory for residents to compost, just because their landfills are filling up a lot quicker than we have here in the Midwest,” Koziatek said. “It’s costing their trash haulers three, four, five times as much to take a ton of material to their landfills.”

Adding food waste collection was not difficult, as Total Organics Recycling already picks up yard waste for county residents on a weekly basis, said Ian Ashcraft, an environmental representative at the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

“We’re doing this because it’s the next level after recycling. People hear about reduce, reuse, recycling. But what do I do about my food waste?” Ashcraft said.

Officials want to see the program expanded throughout the county. Most likely, food waste collection could soon be offered to all residents in Maryland Heights, Ashcraft said. Other municipalities may try pilot programs to determine if it’s feasible. 

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