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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Milwaukee Pilots Home Compost Pick-Up

The City of Milwaukee is piloting home compost pick-up and its proving to be very popular. The maximum number of sign-ups -- 500 households scattered throughout Bay View, the East Side, Harambee and Riverwest -- was reached in just eight days last September, and now there's a wait list.

Credit Justin Hegarty
The hauler empties the Hegarty's brown compost cart every other week. In April, pick up ramps up to once a week. Participants can also toss yard waste in their bins.

Milwaukee wants to divert waste from landfills by 40 percent by 2020. Right now, it’s hovering around 25 percent. Sanitation Services Manager Rick Mayers says picking up food waste could help the city meet its goal.

“We know people think it’s cool and would like to do it. But when they pay the fee for it in addition to their regular municipal service bill, what kind of adoption would we have?” he asks.

East Side resident Carly Hegarty and her husband are paying a quarterly fee of $38.25. She thinks it’s a small price to pay to do the right thing.

The Hegartys are new parents and hope the pilot morphs into an ongoing program. “It will be fun as our daughter gets older….for kids to kind of see when they’re cooking with their parents, knowing it’s going to be put back into the ground to grow better soil,” she says.

Pilot participants receive a kitchen caddy. They toss everything into it from carrot scraps to leftovers buried deep in the frig. When the caddy’s full, they toss its contents into the brown cart outside that the hauler picks up every other week; starting in April, that will ramps up to every week.

Credit Susan Bence
Melissa Tashjian of Compost Crusader. In 2016 it diverted more than 1.5 million pounds of compostables. Last November it added Milwaukee's home pick up pilot to its route.

Melissa Tashjian handles home pick up. In 2014, she created Compost Crusader and began picking up organics in the garbage truck she crowd-sourced to purchase.

"I would like for Milwaukee to see how easy it is. To see the full potential of organics diversion. Just like recycling, there is successful ways to dispose and repurpose this material that doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank,” she says.

Tashjian delivers the household compostables to a family farm in Caledonia where James Jutrzonka and his dad now cook down mountains of food scraps and yard waste.

“It’s a richer soil, a richer compost, then say just a carbon source where you use leaves or brush grindings,” Jutrzonka says.

Credit Susan Bence
Brooke Jeffery (right) and roommate Trinite Micek invited neighbors to contribute to their compost bin.

Riverwest resident Brooke Jeffery spotted posters about the pilot at the restaurant where she works. The recent college grad says she didn’t grow up composting, but the program couldn’t be easier. She shows me the handy checklist.

“We posted this here so we would also remember what we can throw in the compost bin and not the garbage,” Jeffery says.

Cooked and raw vegetables? Yes. Spoiled food and sauces? Okay. Raw meat, fats, oil and grease? NO!

Jeffery and her roommate do loads of cooking but never come close to filling their outdoor bin, so they reached out. “We also extended this to our neighbors surrounding us. Hey if anyone else wants to use it - we’re never going to fill up the whole thing by ourselves,” she says.

The pilot will end next November.

“As we look strategically, if the city is going to provide this service beyond this pilot program when we’re really just studying it, we’re going to need to grow the capacity in this region,” sanitation services manager Rick Mayers says.

The Milwaukee Common Council authorized the pilot; continuing the program would require its approval.

Credit Susan Bence
DPW recycling assistant Analiese Smith and sanitation services manager Rick Mayer coordinate the pilot on the city side. In its first three months, nearly 50,000 pounds of compost were collected.

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