By Four Lakes Group Member Megan Arzbaecher
Originally published in Sustainable Times Magazine
Recycling has been commonplace in Madison for many years as a means to reduce waste. The Madison Streets & Recycling division employs a single stream recycling system which is easy and simple to use. Residents combine their recycling materials in one collection bin, rather than having to sort items individually based on categories. The city does curbside recycling biweekly, and there is no additional work of taking recycling to an offsite facility or sorting into individual bins.
In 2010, the cost per household for waste management services was $226.87 or $18.89 per month. Because of its simplicity and low cost, the city boasts a 66% participation rate, and results in a significant amount of waste being diverted from the landfill. Streets & Recycling recently modified its rules to include additional items. In 2012, they started accepting pots & pans, small metal appliances, and plastic bags as part of the curbside recycling program. However, there are certain materials that the city can’t take such as light weight plastics since the recycling company cannot deal with these materials. For up to date information, check out the Recylopedia available at http://www.cityofmadison.com/streets.
For items the city is unable to collect at the curbside, there are offsite collection centers. Electronics can be recycled for a $10 fee at one of two facilities. This not only keeps toxic materials out of the landfills, but also allows some of the items to be repurposed or broken down into useful components. Madison also has the Stuff Exchange (http://www.madisonstuffexchange.com/), a city sponsored website for reuse of unwanted items. Items may be given away or offered for sale and participants can create a “wanted” list for items they are looking for.
But even the extensive recycling still leaves a tremendous amount of waste that ends up in the landfill. And landfills are neither popular to construct or cheap to operate. Recently, the City of Madison rolled out the innovative Organics Collection Pilot Program. This 2-year pilot program is focused on testing the viability of citywide organic waste collection. The costs and benefits of the program will be analyzed to determine whether it is cost-effective enough to implement citywide.
It began in June 2011 with a small number of volunteer households in two neighborhoods and businesses, and grew again this year to include the Madison Children’s Museum and Fair Oaks Diner. The city’s Streets division collects organic material, which includes anything that used to be alive such as plant matter and food waste, but also cardboard, pet waste, and paper. They come and pick up the waste weekly and deliver it to the Columbia County Compost facility. As the organic matter decays, the city utilizes an anaerobic digestion system to create two beneficial outcomes from the waste.
According to the pilot program’s website, “An AD system will produce lots of valuable compost, but it is also designed to capture all of the methane (biogas) that is generated during the digestion process. The biogas can then be used to power a generator or fuel cell to produce electricity or used as fuel for collection vehicles”. This pilot program is a huge opportunity for Madison. If the program proves cost-effective, Madison can break ground on a completely sustainable system for organic waste. The rich composted soil could be utilized throughout the city’s gardens, while the renewable energy has endless opportunities for transportation, electricity or heating.
Of course, personal composting is a great way to reduce your ecological footprint. Starting your own compost shouldn’t be intimidating; it’s easier than you think! Get a covered bin for a self-contained system, or attend the City of Madison’s compost sale for a ready-to-go bin. Then follow the 50-50 rule- use 50% brown waste, such as leaves, and 50% green waste, aka food scraps and grass clippings. This will give you a good carbon and nitrogen balance. After the first week, your pile should reach a temperature of 140 degrees, and you will need to turn it every few weeks. This aerates the soil while also mixing up the compost. Then after 4 months, your compost should be ready to go!
Another new program begun fall of 2012 was Leave the Leaf. The City of Madison will kick off this program in the hopes of reducing the problematic disposal of leaves every fall. People view leaves as a waste product and nuisance to yard maintenance. However, there are lots of potential benefits of leaves including mulch, natural fertilizer and garden cover.
The goals of Leave the Leaf include reducing “phosphorus runoff from leaves, improve the quality of area soil and lawns, and reduce the need for more leaf collection trucks and staff”. The program will over education seminars for dealing with your leaves such as mulching and composting them.
The final program to highlight is RAH, or Recycling Away from Home. Sponsored by Sierra Club and Marquette Neighborhood, this joint program aims to offer recycling and waste reduction efforts at festivals and events throughout Madison. With so many summer activities around the city, there is a huge potential for waste, since many festivals have no recycling programs. RAH uses a network of volunteers to set-up and takedown waste bins as well as advocate for more sustainable systems of event planning. RAH educates food and drink vendors on purchasing recyclable or biodegradable materials and reducing the waste they generate at the events.
While waste generation represents a huge problem for the future of the planet, cities like Madison are creating innovative, new programs to encourage people to take control of their refuse and recycle. Single-sort recycling, RAH, Leave the Leaf and composting are just a few of the opportunities for you to get involved in greening our city!