NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Nearly a third of all waste that winds up at landfills in Middle Tennessee consists of food scraps and other organic materials that could be composted.
That’s according to Zero Waste Program Manager Jenn Harrman, whose team is exploring ways to not only reduce the amount of waste going to landfills, but to find more sustainable solutions for disposing of Nashville’s trash.
Before the end of this year, the city plans to launch a year-long pilot program where households will be able to collect their food scraps and other organic materials throughout the week and then take them to the curb to have them picked up and composted at no cost.
“I think we have more and more people in Nashville that want to be more sustainable,” Harrman said. “Anecdotally, the issues with trash as well, and knowing that landfills are filling up, I think folks recognize that we need to do something different.”
‘With food waste in particular, it’s one of our top priorities’
According to a resolution adopted at the Metro Council’s last meeting, local landfills are expected to reach capacity in three to five years if additional steps aren’t taken. The resolution was in support of a community-wide target of a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030, which Harrman believes the Food Scraps Pickup Pilot could play a large role in.
“Prices are going up for landfills; no one wants a landfill in their backyard; it’s more difficult to find places to even build new landfills,” Harrman said. “So, there’s just more opportunity to find ways that are sustainable, and with food waste in particular, it’s one of our top priorities.”
If successful, the program could also put Nashville one step closer to achieving its Zero Waste goal, adopted by the Metro Council in Aug. 2021, to reduce all waste to landfill by 90%. Despite little promotion for the pilot program, Harrman said word has “spread like wildfire.”
Over 1,200 people have already submitted applications to have food scrap collections start up at their homes, but because it is a pilot program and funding is limited, the city will only be selecting 750 households to participate.
“I know a lot of the folks that have applied, they are a lot of the folks that do already understand the value of it, but it’s been really exciting to see that there are so many different people and different interests as to why folks want to compost or why they want this program,” Harrman said.
‘It’s really a fact-finding mission at this stage’
Eligible households that are already a part of Metro’s curbside trash and recycling collection programs will receive a four-gallon curbside bin, countertop container and welcome packet with the pickup schedule and additional information about what can and cannot be composted.
Participants don’t need to have any prior knowledge about composting. In fact, it’s highly encouraged that people who are unfamiliar with composting sign up.
“The goal is to find some participants that maybe aren’t as indoctrinated into being green,” Harrman said. “Really making sure that we’re getting a diverse group of Nashville residents who have varying experience with compost and understanding of food waste to see how they interact with the program.”
That type of data, whether it’s how full a bin was, or how often it was used, will help Harrman and her team better understand the feasibility of permanently incorporating food scrap collection with the city’s regular collection programs for all Nashville residents.
“It’s really a fact-finding mission at this stage to make the case for expansion. No matter what we’re going to be able to collect valuable data,” Harrman said. “I think for us, success is going to be very tied to ensuring that our participants really reflect Nashville and our diverse communities.”
How composting benefits the environment, local farmers
Everything from fruits to coffee grounds; pasta; snack foods; napkins; pet food; and soiled pizza boxes can be left in the collection bins to be composted.
Once the scraps are collected by Compost Nashville, which is partnering with the city for the pilot program, they will be taken to a facility in Ashland City to be turned into nutrient-rich soils that are then sold to farmers, landscapers, and gardeners.
“That’s the one thing that’s really nice about compost versus recycling is that this is a hyper-localized, really circular process for this material,” Harrman said. “So, it’s not only collected in Nashville, it then stays in Middle Tennessee soils.”
By naturally decomposing organic matter instead of sending food scraps to a landfill, residents are also reducing the production of methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas that is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
Applications for pilot program still open
Those who are selected to participate will be asked to take part in four surveys throughout the pilot and attend at least one focus group. Ideally, Harrman said they hope to have the program up and running by Oct. 1, and applicants selected for the program should be notified at least two weeks in advance.
“For the folks that don’t end up being selected, because not everyone’s going to get to participate, we want people to apply because we’re going to be able to share more information, and those are going to be the people we reach out to if we are able to expand,” Harrman said.
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People who aren’t selected for the program can also still make an impact by composting in their backyard or dropping off food scraps and other organic materials for free at one of Nashville’s four Recycling and Waste Items Convenience Centers.
Metro Nashville has several other resources listed online to help residents start composting on their own. That information can be found by clicking here. To find out more about the Food Scraps Pickup Pilot or to apply, click this link.
“Our hope is that by showing that people participate, and they participate in a way that is composting correctly, they’re not just using it like another trash can, that we can demonstrate that this is worth it and also show the amount of material we’re able to keep out of landfill,” Harrman said.