Composting

UPDATE - Changes to Food Waste Collection Program

UW-Madison suspends the majority of food waste collection locations after vendor stops accepting food scraps. In recent years, UW–Madison maintained a successful campus food waste collection program. However, due to unforeseen circumstances the university must overhaul the program. Please take the survey to provide your feedback and help UW determine next steps.

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Why?

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.

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What about food waste from home?

The UW–Madison does not accept additional food waste brought from off-campus residences.

For food scraps and other organic materials generated off-campus, please consider the following options:

  • Reduce the volume of surplus food generated.EPA - Food Waste Hierarchy
  • Donate extra food to food banks, soup kitchens and shelters.
  • Utilize an in-sink garbage disposal if you live within the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) service area. The Wastewater/Resource Recovery Treatment plant at Nine Springs recovers energy and collects the biosolids for fertilizer (Metrogro). REMINDER: Never put fats, oil, or grease down your drains. Check the product specifications of your disposal to determine what food waste is appropriate.
  • Drop off your food scraps at one of three collection points run by the City of Madison. You can learn more here.
  • Set up your own compost system. Decide if a backyard or vermicomposting system fits best with your available space and volume of food scraps. The UW–Division of Extension Master Composter Program offers resources and support.
  • Compost your food scraps at a community garden. Find a garden near you. Ask the garden coordinator if you could bring your food scraps to the compost pile and/or help maintain the compost pile.
  • Work with a private food waste collection service. Local options include Curbside Composter and Earth Stew Compost Services. Don’t have a private organics collection hauler? Contact your municipality or your landlord to inquire.

For more information, check out the EPA’s Food Recovery website for more ideas!