Chicago Launches Citywide Composting Initiative

Person using countertop compost bin to gather food scraps

(Credit: Unsplash)

by | Oct 17, 2023

Chicago is launching its first citywide food composting program where residents can bring their food scraps to various locations to help cut down on organic waste.

Residents may sign up for the new composting program at drop-off locations, collect food scraps using a sealed container, then bring collected materials to green carts at the drop-off sites. Food scraps are then delivered to a composting facility where they are processed into nutrient-rich compost used to supplement and improve soil. Participants may compost all types of food scraps, including meat, bones, dairy, produce, and old leftovers.

The initiative marks one of the many sustainable development projects taken on by Chicago, as the city works to expand natural habitats, improve the environmental performance of development sites, and promote the local food system.

Composting contains a wide range of benefits, such as bettering soil health, reducing emissions, and diverting waste from landfills. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, food scraps and garden waste comprise about 28% of waste, and when food waste breaks down in landfills, it creates high-carbon biogas emissions. Currently, about 6% of food waste is composted, but with an increasing number of cities adopting compost services, this number may be on the rise.

The Department of Street Sanitation (DSS) and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson launched the Food Scrap Drop-Off program, allowing city residents to bring their food scraps to one of 15 locations in the city.

“The Office of Climate and Environmental Equity applauds DSS for taking this important step in diverting food scraps from the waste stream and returning this organic waste to a productive reuse for compost,” said Angela Tovar, chief sustainability officer for Chicago. “We look forward to a continued partnership to realize a suite of policies and actions aimed at minimizing waste disposal and its negative environmental impacts, and maximizing more circular systems that allow Chicagoans to reroute items from landfills that can otherwise be reduced, reused, recycled, or repaired.”

Cities Adopt Composting for Environmental, Cost Benefits

Although compost programs involve considerable upfront costs, decreasing the amount of organic waste put in landfills may save taxpayers in landfill fees. In 2019, the average cost of landfill solid waste in the U.S. was $55 per ton, resulting in billions of dollars spent on waste management. If successfully implemented, Chicago’s new program may result in cost savings for the city.

Chicago’s composting program follows a similar effort in New York City, which is implementing a mandatory composting program expected to be citywide by 2025. Nine states have also reportedly enacted laws within the past decade in order to divert food waste, with varying levels of requirements and opportunities.

According to a Chicago Sun-Times report, the city plans to further expand its composting efforts with a backyard composting program and a pumpkin composting program after Halloween. The DSS collaborated with officials in other cities, including New York City, Minneapolis, and Washington, to inform the new program.

“DSS has been working with city partners to bring composting to Chicago residents to help meet the City’s climate action plan and to increase its material diversion rate,” said DSS Commissioner Cole Stallard. “The department is grateful to have additional resources to carry out this initiative and we are fully committed to the program’s operations and success.”

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