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Austin Compost Programs Fertile Amid National Push to Limit Food Waste

A city pilot program and a privately operated composting program have expanded collections since launching in 2012.

Yesterday, we heard about a new goal set by the federal government: a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030.

One way to waste less food is to compost it – by storing organic material in a bucket, for example, until it can be used to fertilize soil. In 2012, the City of Austin and a local company each started their own composting programs.

So, we checked in with both of them to break down how things are going.

In the last two and a half years, the city has picked up the equivalent of 1,500 killer whales in compost.

“Nearly 9,000 tons have been collected from these 14,000 households,” says Emlea Chanslor of the city’s Resource Recovery Department.

While that may sound like a large amount, she says the program is still in its pilot stage, serving just a few neighborhoods in the city.

That same year, a local company, Compost Pedallers, started on a small scale as well. But it’s managed to collect roughly 400,000 pounds of rotting food since its rollout. Owner Dustin Fedako says, while composting is great, there is a hierarchy of food conservation. First is feeding people – either those who buy the food, or through food donations.

“The next level on the hierarchy is feeding animals,” he says. “So taking it to feed hogs or chickens and then, you know, last you want to feed the earth to grow more soil, before the thing we’re all trying to avoid, [which] is feeding the landfill.”

While Dustin says Compost Pedallers is expanding, it’s a voluntary program. The city soon will roll out a mandatory program, requiring all businesses with a food permit to have a food waste plan in place by October 2018 – whether that be composting the food or donating it.

Next on the city’s list? A composting program that runs city-wide.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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