Madison wraps successful food scrap program for 2020

COVID-19 disrupted many things this year. Despite the obstacles, Madison Recycling Coordinator Bryan Johnson charged on with implementing the city’s food scrap drop-off program. Residents diverted over 7,260 pounds of food waste in this first year of the May-October program. Congratulations to the Madison program and their residents!

There’s an important reason Madison called this a food scrap program. The materials are processed at an anaerobic digester, primarily used to process manure from dairy farms. Therefore the program had very specific requirements for what items could be accepted. Materials such as eggshells, yard waste or certified compostable packaging acceptable in traditional outdoor commercial composting facilities could not be processed by the digester. 

Johnson was well-prepared to help residents avoid confusion about acceptable and unacceptable program materials. Residents had access to custom, material-specific disposal directions on the Betterbin app. Johnson also sent monthly emails to participants that reviewed common search queries in the app. 

“I think it was a real benefit to have the Betterbin app,” Johnson said. “Residents seemed to like how easy it made participating in our food scrap program.”

Madison’s program always intended on closing down in the fall so that the City trucks used to haul the materials could switch over to leaf pick-up. The program ended a few weeks early due to some pesky wasps and hornets. Johnson hopes to begin the program again in April 2021.

Congratulations, Madison for a great year of food waste diversion! Learn more about Madison’s food scrap program here.

Fighting food waste at the fridge

With 52 million tons of food going to U.S. landfills annually, it’s no wonder that many communities and businesses have initiated food waste diversion goals. According to ReFED, organic materials make up  21% of U.S. landfill volume!

The impact of landfilled food waste doesn’t stop at the space it consumes at landfills. Food waste globally contributes 8% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions. This makes landfilled food waste contributions to methane emissions near equivalent to that of all road transport emissions! Continue reading “Fighting food waste at the fridge”

Weston, WI: Fight cancer, fuel recycling

Valerie Parker photo

Great communities don’t just fall on a map. It takes great people to make great communities. Great people like Valerie Parker.

Weston friends, you need to know about Valerie Parker. Valerie gifted us the ability to test launch our app in Weston. Now it’s time for us to do her solid. And we’re asking you to get involved in a super easy way.

Valerie’s official title is Village of Weston Planning Technician. We’re going to zero in on her role as Weston’s Recycling Coordinator. Actually, we need to go even further. We are going to dig into Valerie’s role as one special human being who is so passionate about doing the right thing—especially when it comes to recycling right.

Many communities have individuals who oversee refuse and recycling contracts. Valerie took that role to heart when she began her tenure with Weston more than a decade ago. She didn’t just review new contracts. She made sure Weston went after grant funding available through the state to keep recycling costs lower for residents, developed an annual recycling and refuse newsletter, and hosts a calendar of events such as an electronic waste drop-off, home composting event and bulk-item drop-offs that is capped off with an annual recycling audit that awards prizes to the community’s best recyclers.

When we approached the Marathon County Solid Waste Dept. Director Meleesa Johnson about needing a community to beta test the ERbin app, Meleesa sent us straight to Valerie. Valerie eagerly agreed to bring any tool to residents that would make recycling right easier.

Now, Valerie is battling against a reoccurrence of endometrial cancer. We wanted to help with her battle against cancer and support her mission to help Weston residents recycle right. To do that, we are hosting an ERbin app scan challenge. Here’s how you can get involved.

For the challenge, simply download (Google Play; App Store) the ERbin app and start scanning the UPC barcodes of products to see if they are acceptable in Weston recycling bins. For each scan or search up to 2,000 scans/searches, we are contributing $0.25 toward a total donation that will go to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer (FWC) at the end of the scan challenge on Earth Day, April 22. The goal is to raise $500 for FWC. That means we need 2,000 scans from you.

Will you accept the challenge?



Finally, innovation in college campus recycling education

Digging through campus recycling and refuse bins can certainly draw strange looks and laughs from a crowd of college students. The costs are much higher for NOT digging deeper into the challenges that come with university recycling programs.

Fluctuations in market prices for recovered materials have impacted everyone—even college and university campuses. At Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, the campus is now paying extra monthly fees for the contamination (trash) leaving their campus recycling bins.

The increased costs are fair. It costs Edgewood College’s recycling service provider, Waste Management, extra time and resources to sort and dispose of the unacceptable materials. The counter attack is no less expensive. Establishing a successful recycling education campaign on a college campus is an extraordinary feat. Turns out, recycling isn’t top-of-mind for college students.

But age and priorities aren’t the only problem. Students are constantly coming-and-going from campus; leaving in the summer for home or jobs, or enrolling for the first time at an institution that has different recycling guidelines than a student’s previous home-town. Re-education year-after-year is time-consuming and costly for facilities departments. Signage isn’t always reflective of year-to-year changes in acceptable material lists. Contracts change with service providers. Employees come-and-go and require re-training about recycling right.

The constant change of multiple variables wreaks havoc on campus recycling programs. Even Waste Management, sponsor of the app launch at Edgewood College, is interested in finding new ways to combat contamination and reduce costs to customers.

That’s why ERbin turned its attention to a better solution for campus recycling education. As much as we hate calling it education, it is what it is—but way cooler. Edgewood College is the first campus in the nation (with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point a close second) to implement the ERbin app for students and staff. A collaboration with a group of students in Edgewood’s Social Entrepreneurship course allowed ERbin to pair its data-driven technology with advice from students about how to best engage college students with use of the app, and interest in recycling, in general.

ERbin will spend the next few months promoting the app to students and staff, tracking use of the app, and finishing up the semester with a post-app implementation waste audit to measure any impact on contamination and volume of materials recovered.

One week into launching the app and it’s looking like free coffee might be the key to recycling right on college campuses 😉

Recycling education needs to go digital

It’s 2020. Estimates say that the material recovery industry loses $300M annually because consumers simply don’t know what materials to be tossing in residential recycling bins. How did we get to this point? With at-will availability of all kinds of information via our mobile devices, it’s baffling that consumers still don’t have the information they need to recycle right.

We’re going to change that. (You knew that was coming, right?)

First, let’s address the fact that many variables impact a consumer’s ability to recycle right. Markets for recovered materials have changed. Packaging has become complex – it’s not just glass, paper, cardboard, and aluminum/tin cans, anymore. Processing equipment has become antiquated and unable to meet the demands of new packaging materials. All of these variables create constant changes to local recycling program guidelines.

Yet, when you talk to the average consumer, the vast majority of people say they do recycle and want to recycle. Our waste audits in the City of Wausau and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus provide all the evidence we need that consumers want to recycle.

The problem is that the load of groceries you just brought home doesn’t look anything like the general messaging you’re seeing in local guidelines

The industry is working hard to make recycling work. Taskforces are researching new market opportunities for use of recovered materials. Processing infrastructure upgrades are slowly taking place across the country. But communicating with the public about how to recycle right?

So far, the solution has involved simplifying and generalizing messages: No plastic bags or plastic wrap. Plastic #1 and #2 containers-only. Cardboard boxes – yes.

The problem is that the load of groceries you just brought home doesn’t look anything like the general messaging you’re seeing in local guidelines (if you’re seeing those guidelines at all).

We’re coming at this problem from another angle: Be as specific as possible.

What if your grocery receipt told you exactly how to properly recycle all of the products you just purchased? What if you could give your kids your phone to scan the UPC barcodes of products in your pantry to learn how to recycle products you buy? What if your grocery delivery app told you exactly how to recycle all of the packaging for the products you just purchased?

It’s 2020. We have the technology. Would you use it?