Oxford to pilot food waste composting program

Oxford City Council included $11,000 in the 2019 budget for a pilot program aimed at composting food waste.
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Oxford City Council included $11,000 in the 2019 budget for a pilot program aimed at composting food waste.

Recycling has been such a success here a county award honoring the community doing the best job was discontinued because it came to Oxford every year. Now, the city is taking the lead with a pilot program aimed at composting food waste.

City Council included $11,000 in the 2019 budget for the project.

The idea was first floated by Council member Chantel Raghu several months ago and was discussed at a work session held in October to consider the 2019 budget.

Council members had told Raghu to investigate a possible community food composting drop-off program and come back with suggestions. That information was further expanded by city staff and included in the budget work session. Her information was largely obtained through a firm named GoZERO in Springfield, Ohio.

GoZERO will likely be a bidder for the city program, but City Manager Doug Elliott said staff will need to go through the usual bidding process seeking a Request for Proposal from any interested firms and awarding a bid.

Also, even though the money is included in the budget, which is scheduled for final action in an ordinance on this Tuesday’s council agenda, they will need to act on an authorization to spend the money and seek RFPs, he added.

“There will be no charge to residents because this is a pilot program. The $11,000 is in the 2019 solid waste fund,” Elliott said. “I have no idea how successful the program will be. We do a really good job of recycling in Oxford. If we can direct more food waste out of the landfill, it will be good.”

Elliott said he hopes to develop that RFP by the end of this year.

Part of that will be to decide how to structure the program. Elliott said he and City Service Director Mike Dreisbach are not in favor of an unattended drop-off center, fearing it will not work well, but such a provision will require people be on hand for limited drop-off times.

He cited a compost program in College Park, Maryland which provides back-yard recycling bins for residents to collect their compost food items.

Grayson Hart, the food waste reduction coordinator for GoZERO, said his company provides 64-gallon carts which are placed at specified locations determined by the city. Citizens then bring their food scraps to that location and the carts are hauled away on a regular basis to be composted.

While the firm builds in a cost for separating out the items not able to be composted, he said they see relatively little of that.

“Most people willing to bring things for composting will not bring waste. Someone may toss a potato chip bag in the wrong container but we have anecdotal evidence people seem to care about it will not treat it that way,” Hart said. “We are looking for good, clean material we can compost easily.”

He also said he does not see a need for drop-off sites to always be attended but added, “There are no completely unattended sites.”

GoZERO uses a system in which the carts are emptied into their trucks and then power-washed on site with the water captured by the truck and removed rather than dumping there. Hart said it is a more efficient system than that of some companies which haul the cart away, regardless of how full it is, which limits how many carts can be moved at a time.

“We can fit a huge amount of carts worth of stuff on the trailer,” he said, noting it gives them a wider range they can cover in one day. He said they serve communities from Columbus to Cincinnati.

Elliott said the city is looking at two sets of cost estimates from GoZERO, the first obtained by Raghu in her initial investigation and the second obtained by Dreisbach in his follow-up.

That first proposal estimated $4,212 per year for one container at one site; $6,396 per year for one container at two sites; and $8,580 per year for one container at three sites.

When Dreisbach followed up with the firm, he was given estimated costs for a different set of scenarios.

Those included $19,344 per year for two containers at three sites and $9,672 per year for biweekly service for two containers at three sites plus a $14 per cart sorting charge for incompatible items.

An Oct. 9 proposal from GoZERO, however, explained that sorting charge is sort of a last resort. The proposal explained they would provide complimentary sorting within reason. A pattern of repeated excessive violations would result in notification of the city’s contact person to find ways to address the issue.

“If efforts to improve fall short, sorting charges will be levied at a rate of $14 per cart, as judged appropriate by the collections driver. In extreme cases, if the material can not be sorted as judged by the collections driver, the cart will be left for on-site personnel to empty,” that proposal reads.

The GoZERO list of items they can compost includes fruits, vegetable, grains, pasta, baked goods, beans, coffee grounds, eggs, eggshells, dairy, cooked meat and soiled non-coated paper and fiber products.

In the category of items they cannot compost “yet” are raw meat, bones, seafood and shellfish.

Hart said composting is growing more popular around the Midwest and said there is “tons of passion” for it.

“People want to contribute. We are growing into it,” he said.

Elliott said City Council is trying out the idea for a year and it will be up to the community to determine its success.

“It’s a pilot for a year. I hope there are not a lot of extra costs we did not plan on,” he said. “It depends on the residents following the rules and we’ll see how it works out.”

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