Madison working on a one-of-a-kind curbside compost program - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Madison working on a one-of-a-kind curbside compost program

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MADISON (WKOW) --  A Madison Streets Department plan would cut back on the amount of trash the city collects every week.

Madison would be the first city in the nation to use an anaerobic biodigester to compost residential organic waste.

The city collects 48,000 tons of trash from homeowners and businesses every year. Madison's recycling coordinator George Dreckmann estimates the composting plan would keep at least 40 percent out of the landfill. 

"We had been looking at alternative ways to handle [the trash] for a number of years." Dreckmann says. "Not only get it out of the landfill and turn it into compost, but also generate renewable energy."

Dreckmann's idea is to move trash collection to every other week, and pick up homeowners' organic waste weekly. The proposal would build a biodigester to convert that waste into compost that can be sold to farmers and landscapers. The biodigester would also generate large amounts of biogas, that would power and heat or cool some new city buildings that are in the works. The output would also be cheaper than diesel, so the city would use it to fuel the garbage trucks.

About 550 homeowners in Madison already have a third bin on their curbs, because the city has been running a pilot compost program for nearly two years. Dreckmann says he's gotten a lot of positive feedback about the program and can't offer the service to all the people who are interested in participating because of budget constraints.

Participating households get a smaller, black bin for any kind of organic waste. It's picked up weekly at the same time as the regular trash. 

Martha Stryker, who lives on the east side, says she was happy to sign up for the program and can't believe how little waste ends up in her regular trash bin now.

"I don't need to put out my regular trash, maybe every three weeks if it didn't have any smell at all," says Stryker. "We put pineapple tops and avocado peels and pits and things like that [in it]."

The city gives the participants biodegradable bags and small kitchen containers for easier access. Stryker says the bags cut back on the smell.

Right now, Dreckmann is working on putting together a request for proposals from companies to find out how much it may cost to build a biodigester. He anticipates it's likely to fall between $15 and $25 million, but the city could have access to some federal grants to offset initial costs. 

Dreckmann estimates it would cost about $1.3 million to set up and run a curbside collection program, but over time the money saved with the biodigester would offset some of the operational costs.

Dreckmann hopes if all goes well, the Madison city council will approve the plan for the 2015 budget and crews can start building. He hopes to begin phasing in curbside collection in 2016.
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