City food waste plan could be recycled

The Intermunicipal Relations Committee, always hungry to divert additional recyclables from the local waste stream, is cobbling together a recipe to compost discarded food.

It could mean the recycling of an old tradition, as the city once collected food waste for composting at the privately owned Fluid Agro Mulch – FAM – plant on old Sixth Avenue Road, where Waste Management currently has a transfer station.

The committee envisions composting garbage collected from major producers and eventually, perhaps, households at its yard waste compost site near Dysart, by mixing, then burying food waste in leaves that workers already compost on an open-air asphalt pad, according to John Frederick, IRC executive director.

Food waste is “the next big step” in waste stream diversion, and it has helped San Francisco approach the three-quarters mark for recycling, Frederick said.

Ultimately, the food would be a component of mulch the committee already sells to residents.

Frederick hopes to begin with several major producers of food waste – UPMC Altoona, Penn State Altoona and Sheetz, plus a food processor he didn’t name – because those would generate regular amounts of garbage, and it would be easy to collect from them, Frederick said.

There have been “interesting” discussions so far, Frederick said.

Sheetz and Penn State Altoona said those discussions are too preliminary to warrant comment. Gary Zuckerman, UPMC Altoona vice president of supply chain and facilities operations, also called discussions “preliminary” but added that the hospital is “interested in pursuing further exploration of food waste composting.”

A couple area supermarkets already send their excess food to a digester in the Mifflintown area for composting, Frederick said.

The IRC would need to expand the composting pad at Dysart to make room for the addition of garbage to the process, and it has grant money to do so, Frederick said.

Workers at the site would blend, then bury the foodstuff, which would allow the composting to take place, while protecting the food from animals and the weather, Frederick said.

Gradual steps

The committee intends to get into garbage composting slowly, he said.

One potential challenge may be collecting enough leaves to provide the necessary carbon to compost the food completely, Frederick said.

“[That’s] one of the many reasons we’re crawling before we walk,” Frederick said. “To work out the kinks.”

The FAM operation started in 1952, when a group of local investors signed a long-term contract to compost all the garbage the city collected and all the sludge from its sewer treatment plants, according to a story from that time in the Mirror.