How communities can use the momentum from the Zero Waste Act to advance regional compost markets

Departments - Waste Watch

September 4, 2019

Congress has made notable advancement toward pushing waste diversion and recycling legislation this year. In July, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota introduced the Zero Waste Act. If enacted, the legislation will provide $2.5 million in grant funding to local governments with projects geared toward the development of city and regional recycling capacity and the strengthening of domestic markets for materials that have limited end users. The proposed legislation would support sustainable solid waste management in the U.S. in a way that could be leveraged by local governments seeking to increase waste diversion through the use of alternative solid waste management strategies.

One way that municipalities can capitalize on this policy window is by creating comprehensive solid waste management plans that prioritize organics collection, processing and utilization by purchasers. To make impactful solid waste ordinances, municipalities must understand the supply of organics in their jurisdictions and the demand for soil amendments regionally. To do so, analysis tools like waste characterization studies and organic waste market studies can be useful. By gauging the supply and demand of organic-related materials, cities will be better positioned to advance their regional compost markets.

Local governments can also conduct benchmarking reports to identify cities with high waste diversion rates and compare strategies in relation to their own to begin the process of enacting organics diversion policies. During this process, governments should be sure to benchmark cities that have similarities related to factors that affect their organics markets, including population, processing capacity and presence of end users. Cities can refer to the EPA website at for waste diversion and reduction support guidance.

Highlighted strategies include:

  • Influencing the supply of compost in local markets by expanding curbside organics collection service for residential areas, as well as creating drop-off locations. The city of Portland, Oregon, for example, initiated a weekly organics curbside collection program of yard and food waste in 2011. Within one year, the city diverted 8,000 tons of food waste from residences. The city also switched to weekly recycling collection and biweekly refuse collection to further encourage residential organics disposal and recycling collection.
  • Including incentives for organics waste diversion and productive use of organics within service provider agreements with waste haulers, such as through lower franchise fees. The city of Cupertino, California, for example, entered into a five-year franchise agreement with San Francisco-based Recology in 2010 that included the incentive of a contract extension based on the city’s achievement of a 75 percent diversion rate by 2015.
  • Increasing organic waste processing capacity locally by considering waste conversion technologies. For example, through a public procurement process, the city of San Jose, California, selected the Zero Waste Energy Development Company (ZWEDC) and their dry fermentation anaerobic digestion and composting facility to process the city’s commercial waste. This contributed to San Jose’s overall 66 percent recycling rate in 2015.
  • Influencing local compost markets with green procurement strategies. For example, King County, Washington, recently implemented an environmentally preferable product procurement policy requiring subcontractors to use soil enhancers from local composting facilities in their maintenance and construction projects.

While different markets require different strategies for diverting organic waste, looking outward to successful practices already being implemented can help local governments identify smarter—and more environmentally friendly—ways to manage waste.