Nov 7, 2022 - News

Atlanta wants to create composting hubs to accept kitchen scraps

Illustration of a recycling symbol made out of shovels carrying dirt.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The banana peel in your trash can could have a much better second life helping tomatoes grow in a West End urban garden, but how do you get it there?

Why it matters: 40% of the food people buy ends up in landfills, where it breaks down and releases methane — greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

  • Atlanta's sustainability office wants to map out a composting network it can scale and couple with efforts by others — companies, nonprofits and everyday residents — that will enrich the soil, increase access to food and spark small businesses.

Driving the news: The city is competing for a $300,000 USDA grant to study how to start, grow and sustain that program.

By the numbers: Homes and apartments generate more than one-third of the 125,000 tons of food waste Atlantans generate every year.

First steps: The city wants to start small by partnering with local nonprofits and companies such as CompostNow, Goodr, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to set up 10 places to drop off kitchen scraps at farmers' markets and other sites across the city.

The big picture: John Seydel, the city’s deputy chief sustainability officer, says he envisions a day when city-collected compost could be used in parks, schools, urban farms and neighborhoods.

Yes, but: There are challenges aplenty.

  • Where to compost: The more food waste you have, the more facilities you need to compost it, says David Paull of CompostNow, an Atlanta company that picks up food scraps for compost.
  • How to compost: The public needs to learn they should keep pet poop out of their bins and peel off fruit stickers and other plastics that can break down and seep into the soil.
  • What to compost: Residents' leaf-and-limb collections could be a great resource for the necessary "brown items" in compost, but they’re currently processed by a private company in northwest Atlanta and have been shipped to other states for use as fuel.

What’s next: The city expects to hear from the federal government any day.

  • Even if the application is unsuccessful, stimulus programs and state and federal agencies are increasing funding opportunities, says Michelle Wiseman, the city’s director of waste diversion and outreach.

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