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Mapping Urban Access to Composting Programs

To better understand residential access to composting programs in urban areas of the United States, GreenBlue has developed interactive maps and charts of municipally-run and privately-run composting programs, available on Tableau Public. These visualizations seek to provide insight into which cities in the US have access to composting programs that accept food waste and/or compostable packaging.

This was done by researching the type of composting access available to the 1,000 most populous cities in the United States. Cities were chosen for this research because they have high levels of density, tend to offer residential curbside waste and/or recycling collection programs, and, in some cases, have legislation or goals around zero waste or packaging. This means they are well-positioned to offer composting access to residents, either through municipally- or privately-run programs. These cities have a combined population of 131,132,443 people, representing approximately 40% of the total US population.

Access to composting programs can be through:

  • Municipally-run curbside programs. Municipal-run programs are administered by the resident’s city or county, and are generally considered to be easier to use, with a lower barrier to entry. This is because the resident typically already accesses other waste services through the municipality, and composting is included in city communications.
  • Privately-run curbside programs. These programs are run by a private composting company that picks up material from residents and takes it to a nearby composter or processes the material at their own composting site. These programs are often structured as a monthly subscription service, rather than on a weight or volume-based fee. They are often built through word-of-mouth engagement and are used by motivated residents. In some programs, residents may receive finished compost.
  • Drop-off programs. These programs can be municipally-run or privately-run, and often offer multiple locations where residents can bring their food scraps and other accepted compostable items for composting. Drop-off locations are typically free to use but in some cases may include a fee.

Backyard composting was not considered in this analysis of access to composting programs. Material accepted in curbside or drop-off programs is subject to change, as is the access to these programs themselves.

You can explore the resources below. Click on or hover over map elements to see more information and to zoom in.

Access to Composting Programs in the Top 1,000 US Cities

These visualizations show that cities of all sizes have a variety of composting programs. In many cases, cities with composting access have multiple programs (e.g. both privately-run curbside and municipal drop-off).

Some key findings are:

  • 16% of the largest cities have some kind of composting program that accepts food waste only (no compostable packaging accepted). These cities represent 16% of the total US population.
  • 19% of the largest cities have some kind of composting program that accepts some form of compostable packaging in addition to food waste. These cities represent 11% of the total US population.
  • In total, at least 27% of the US population has access to some kind of composting program that accepts either food waste only, or food waste and some forms of compostable packaging.

Program-specific visualizations are available here:

 

 

  • Drop-Off Composting Programs in the Top 1,000 US Cities
    • At least 5% of the total US population has access to municipally-run drop-off programs that accept food waste only, and another 1% of the population has access to municipally-run drop-off programs that accept compostable packaging in addition to food waste.
    • At least 4% of the total US population has access to privately-run drop-off programs that accept food waste only, and another 1% of the population has access to privately-run drop-off programs that accept compostable packaging in addition to food waste.

 

About the Methodology

This data was gathered in the spring and summer of 2020 by using an online search engine to determine whether the largest 1,000 cities in the United States had some type of composting program. The total population of these cities is 131,132,443 people, which is approximately 40% of the total US population.

Cities were chosen for this research because they have high levels of density, tend to offer residential curbside waste and/or recycling collection programs, and, in some cases, have legislation or goals around zero waste or packaging. Unlike rural areas, cities tend to have the appropriate scale and volumes to make collection of organic waste feasible and cost-effective. For this reason, it was expected that these cities would be well-suited to composting collection programs.

No results were extrapolated; rather, each city was researched individually to determine whether it had some type of composting program available to its residents. The categories of access included municipal curbside composting, privately-run curbside composting, municipally-run drop-off programs, and privately-run drop-off programs. These are the main modes of collection-based composting programs, and stand in contrast to home composting, where residents compost material directly in their homes or backyards.

When a city was identified as having residential composting access, it was then further categorized based on what material is accepted in the program. Some composting programs accept food waste only and do not accept compostable packaging (shown in yellow in the charts above), while other programs allow compostable packaging in addition to food waste (shown in green in the charts above). Programs were categorized as either yellow or green. This means that programs that accept compostable packaging along with food waste were not included in the “accept food waste” category in order to avoid double-counting.

This research did not examine the remaining 60% of the US population, which is composed of rural areas and towns with less than approximately 36,000 people. Composting programs that accept only green waste, also known as yard waste, and do not accept food waste, were also not included in this research. It is important to note that multifamily residential access may differ from single-family residential access. For example, in some states, multifamily properties over a certain size are considered businesses and are subject to different rules and requirements for municipally-run curbside composting programs. At the same time, privately-run curbside composting programs may or may not be available to multifamily properties.

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