With clock ticking on Dane County landfill, focus turns to reducing food waste | Science & Environment

What to do with your food scraps

Wondering what’s the least environmentally harmful way to handle your kitchen scraps?

Backyard composting is the best, according to the city of Madison recycling program.

For those without the time, space or expertise, there are private curbside composting services.

Derek Fry, owner of Curbside Composter, said most of his customers tried composting before signing up for his weekly pickup service, which costs $336 a year.

“They don’t want mice in their yards anymore,” Fry said.

Have a garbage disposal? You could put it down the drain, said Michael Keleman, manager of environmental engineering for Racine-based manufacturer InSinkErator, which commissioned an academic study that found food waste can enhance the sewage treatment process while generating methane that can be captured for reuse.

“By sending it to the treatment plant you’re not only making fertilizer, you’re also making energy,” Keleman said.

Not so fast, cautions Kathy Lake, pollution prevention manager for the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, who warns that grease and fats can clog your pipes, while grit — such as egg shells — requires a lot of water to transport and can be hard on pumps and other equipment.

“You have to be very careful with what you put in the sewer system,” Lake said. “A little bit is OK, but it’s not something we would promote as the go-to solution.”

And while the Nine Springs treatment plant does capture methane to power its own operations, any excess is burned off.

In Dane County, where landfill gas is captured, cleaned and sold as renewable fuel, the most sustainable approach may actually be to put it in the trash, said James Tinjum, an expert in waste and energy at UW-Madison. “The best thing to do is just manage it at the large-scale basis — at the landfill.”

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