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Home > Garbage and Recycling > Recyclable Materials > Organic Materials

Garbage and Recycling: Recyclable Materials: Organic

Organic Material
Organic waste is a big part of our solid waste stream. There are many ways to turn that into an asset rather than a liability.


About 55% of the municipal solid waste generated in this country is organic (table scraps, yard trimmings and paper). Roughly, half of that, is diverted from the landfills which is encouraging.
     Many questions arise when considering alternative disposal of your organic wastes. Let's see if we can answer them here.
  • What are the alternatives?

  • Is there something I can do with my organic waste on site (at my home, apartment, business)?

  • Is there someone (or business) to pick up my organic waste?

  • Is there a place I can take my organic waste?

The alternatives:
There are many real choices that can be done on a small scale (at your apartment) to very large scale (restaurant or food processor).
     Compost: This is commonly talked about, but what is it? "Composting" is the process of decomposing organic material to a point where it forms a "compost". This "compost" is rich in nutrients for plant growth and can be applied to gardens, lawns and farms. There are many methods of composting. You do not need a lot of space to compost and some methods can even be done in your house (or business).
     Some methods are particular about what goes into it (no dairy or meat) and some will take anything organic. Here is a list of some types typically use in the US. 
  • Vermicomposting
  • Aerated (Turned) Windrow
  • Aerated Static Pile
  • In-Vessel
  • Grasscycling
See our page on composting for more details on these types of composting.

    Livestock Feed: This alternative is mostly for your table scraps. Commonly, this alternative is for pig farmers, but some farms will take it for other livestock. Often farms that accept this type of material are mainly interested in large suppliers of scraps, such as, restaurants, lunch rooms and food processors. However, smaller family run organic farms may be willing to accept occasional smaller amounts.

     Burning: Gone, are the days that you can stuff all your garbage into a barrel and burn it in your back yard. Burning everything (plastics, treated wood, etc.) can put some very bad dioxins into the air and soil. When garbage is burned at a large facility (Waste-to-Energy plant) there are stringent pollution controls (mandated by law) in place to prevent the toxic pollutants from reaching the air and food chain. Backyard burn barrels, generally, do not burn hot enough to break down the toxic materials.
     However, all is not lost. There are more innovative designs than just an old 55 gallon steel drum. There are some designs that allow better air flow and higher temperatures. See our Amazon.com store for examples. Also, if you only put organic matter like paper, branches and grass into the barrel you avoid creating some of the most harmful dioxins. The ash from these systems can be used in some soils.
      Pellet Stoves: Pellet stoves burn much hotter than a burn barrel and can provide heat to your house or shop. Normally, pellets are made out wood sawdust, however they can be made from junk mail and grass clippings (you need special equipment for that purpose). These pellets may leave a little more ash and residue than wood pellets. However, you are heating your home and reducing your garbage at the same time.
     If you produce more pellets than you use consider asking neighbors (with pellet stoves) if they would like to use your pellets. They may also be willing to provide materials (junk mail or saw dust) to help you produce more pellets.
On Site:
Not everyone will have a lot of space for composting tons of organic material or for raising pigs. However, it may surprise you how little room you actually need to make use of this material instead of sending it to the landfill.
     Grasscycling: This is the process leaving grass clippings on the lawn where they are cut. You can either set your mower to side discharge or mulch. It can help fertilize your lawn and keep it thick. You should save about 38% of mowing time by not emptying the bag.  No extra space is required around your home. And, contrary to popular opinion, this process does not create thatch. Thatch is caused by the root of the grass, not the top.
     Apartments: Even though you may not have a lawn or garden, you may have potted plants. There are small composting units that can go into a home under (or next to) the kitchen sink that create great compost for your pots. No potted plants? See if your manager could use the compost you make on their landscaping.
     Large Scale: Restaurants and food processors are generally not in the business of making compost. However, that would not be a bad idea for some.  A restaurant could possibly have a garden and landscaping that could use the compost created on the property. Check with local codes to see if it is OK to do this. It may be best to use some of the faster composting methods (such as vermicomposting (worms) or In-Vessel). This could definitely add to a businesses bottom line by saving on fertilizer, produce and garbage fees. 
     In between: Large families, small business lunch rooms, caterers and hotels will generate a fair amount of organic waste. Any of these alternatives (compost, livestock feed, burn) will all reduce the solid waste stream. We suggest you look at the options and find what is best for you.

Pick Up?
Many Cities have a yard waste route with a recycling and garbage route. Generally, you put your paper in the recycling route and grass clippings in the yard waste route. What if that does not exist in your area? There may be many people (businesses) willing to pick up your organic materials.
     Livestock Feed: Many pig farmers are happy to pick-up at restaurants if they generate enough of what their pigs will eat. Make sure you both agree on a consistent pick-up schedule. Vermin may be attracted if food is left out for days awaiting pick-up.
     Human Food: See if there is a local homeless shelter or food bank that will take uneaten prepared foods (that you did not serve to your customers). If you cater events, usually you will have to drive the food to somewhere else anyway.
     Compost: If you compost more than you use, it may be valuable to others in your local community. Try advertizing a U-Pick-Up compost, which you can sell by the bucket or cubic yard.

Drop Off:
Food scraps, paper and yard waste have value to many organizations. Some don't even know they want it until you suggest it to them. Some places may be.
  • Local farms.
  • Community gardens.
  • Apartment garden.
  • Nurseries.
  • Landscaping companies.
  • Universities.
  • Bioreactor landfills.
  • Restaurants.
  • Anaerobic digesters.
Helpful Links:





Recycle products

Municipal solid waste generation, recycling, disposal in US, 2010. EPA document, .pdf

http://www.epa.gov/compost/, Composting facilities, EPA site, taken 2/21/13

http://www.epa.gov/wastes/nonhaz/municipal/backyard/, Backyard Burning, EPA site, taken 2/21/13.

http://www.ehow.com/how_6739797_make-pellet-fuel-out-paper.html, Pellets made out of paper, EHow site, taken 2/21/13.