Nashville, Tennessee Pilots Curbside Composting Program to Reduce Landfill Waste

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Nearly a third of all waste that ends up in Middle Tennessee landfills is made up of food scraps and other organic materials that could be composted.

That’s according to Jenn Harrman, Zero Waste program manager, whose team is exploring ways to not only reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, but also find more sustainable solutions to eliminate Nashville’s waste. .

Before the end of this year, the city plans to launch a one-year pilot program where households will be able to collect their food scraps and other organic materials throughout the week, then bring them to the curb to be picked up and composted at no cost.

“I think we have more and more people in Nashville who want to be more sustainable,” Harrman said. “Anecdotally, the waste issues as well, and knowing that the landfills are filling up, I think people recognize that we need to do something different.”

(Photo: WKRN)

“With food waste in particular, this is one of our top priorities”

According to a resolution passed at the last Metropolitan Council meeting, local landfills are expected to reach capacity within three to five years if additional measures are not taken. The resolution supported a community goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030, in which Harrman believes the leftover food collection pilot could play an important role.

“Landfill prices are increasing; no one wants a landfill in their garden; it’s harder to find places to build new landfills,” Harrman said. “So there are even more opportunities to find sustainable ways, and with food waste in particular, that’s one of our top priorities.”

If successful, the program could also move Nashville closer to its zero waste goal, adopted by the Metro Council in August 2021, to reduce all landfill waste by 90%. Despite little promotion of the pilot program, Harrman said the news “spread like wildfire.”

More than 1,200 people have already submitted applications to have the leftover food collection start at their homes, but because this is a pilot program and funding is limited, the city will only select 750 households to participate .

“I know a lot of people who have applied, a lot of people already understand the value of it, but it’s really exciting to see that there are so many different people and different interests as to why people want to do compost or why they want this program,” Harrman said.

(Photo: WKRN)

“This is very much a fact-finding mission at this stage”

Eligible households who are already part of Metro’s trash and recycling collection programs will receive a four-gallon curbside bin, a countertop container and a welcome packet containing the pickup schedule and additional information about this which can and cannot be composted.

Participants do not need to have prior knowledge of composting. In fact, it is strongly encouraged that people who are unfamiliar with composting sign up.

“The goal is to find participants who may not be as indoctrinated by green,” Harrman said. “We really need to make sure that a diverse group of Nashville residents with varied composting experience and understanding of food waste can see how they interact with the program.”

This type of data, whether it’s how full a bin is or how often it’s been used, will help Harrman and his team better understand the feasibility of permanently integrating waste collection food to the city’s regular collection programs for all Nashville residents.

“At this point, this is really a fact-finding mission to make the case for expansion. Regardless, we will be able to collect valuable data,” Harrman said. “I think for us, success will be closely tied to ensuring that our participants truly reflect Nashville and our diverse communities.”

(WKRN file photo)

How composting benefits the environment and local farmers

Everything from fruit to coffee grounds; Pasta; in case; napkins; pet food; and soiled pizza boxes can be left in the collection bins to be composted.

Once the waste is collected by Compost Nashville, which is partnering with the city for the pilot program, it will be transported to a facility in Ashland City to be transformed into nutrient-rich soils that will then be sold to farmers, landscapers and gardeners.

“What’s really nice about compost and recycling is that it’s a hyper-localized and really circular process for this material,” Harrman said. “So it’s not just collected in Nashville, it then stays in the soils of Middle Tennessee.”

By naturally decomposing organic matter instead of sending food scraps to a landfill, residents also reduce the production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Applications for the pilot program are still open

Those selected to participate will be asked to participate 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 people who won’t be selected, because not everyone will be able to participate, we want people to apply because we’re going to be able to share more information, and those will be the people we reach if we’re able to grow,” Harrman said.

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People who are not selected for the program can also make an impact by composting in their garden or dropping off food scraps and other organic materials for free at one of Nashville’s four recycling and waste centers.

Metro Nashville has several other resources listed online to help residents start composting themselves. This information can be found by clicking here. To learn more about the food scraps collection pilot project or to apply, click on this link.

“Our hope is that by showing that people are participating, and they’re participating in a way that composts properly, they’re not just using it as another trash can, that we can demonstrate that it’s worth it and also show how much material we are able to avoid going to landfill,” Harrman said.

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