Compost changes: UW–Madison must overhaul food waste collection program

In recent years, UW–Madison maintained a successful campus food waste collection program. However, due to unforeseen circumstances the university must overhaul the program. Learn more below and please take our survey to help UW determine next steps. 



On July 30th, 2021, UW–Madison was forced to suspend collection of food waste (commonly referred to as “compost”) generated on campus. Previously, campus employees collected food waste in a variety of locations on campus, such as buckets, carts, and in dining facilities. The organic material was hauled away to an anaerobic digester. The operator of the digester, Clean Fuel Partners LLC, notified UW–Madison that it would no longer accept food waste at the digester due to its conversion to a renewable natural gas (RNG) production facility. Now, the digester only accepts manure as a feedstock.

What has been done to fix the problem?

In Spring 2021, the UW–Madison Waste & Recycling team sought out a new vendor and issued two different simplified bid requests. However, neither attempt was successful. While UW–Madison has the ability to collect and haul the material, it does not have a vendor to accept the material. Without any immediate options, UW–Madison promptly halted its general collection and management of food waste generated on campus. All “front of house” food waste collection points are suspended. This means that mobile carts labeled “compost” will be removed from buildings. The buckets used in the Compost Stewards program will be collected and a follow-up survey will be provided to participants.

In the short-term, UW-Madison is considering its own campus processing outlets. If a suitable outlet is found, only collection locations that generate large amount of food waste and employ trained UW staff located in the “back of house” will be considered. These targeted locations have processes for creating a clean material stream. Like many food waste collection programs, contamination remains a notable concern.

Where will the food waste go now?

In the immediate future and if no internal outlets are found, the food waste will be included in the trash stream and sent to the Dane County Landfill. Fortunately, the Dane County Landfill captures an estimated 85% – 90%* of the methane released by the decomposing food waste and converts it into compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel.

*The methane capture rate is based on a model conducted by the Dane County Department of Waste & Renewables.

What are the next steps?

It is critical that UW–Madison and the Office of Sustainability hear from campus users to help inform next steps for a short and long term solution to managing food waste.

Click on the “Take the Survey” button to provide your feedback.