Residential Food Waste Collection Pilot FAQ's

Page updated on Jul 24, 2019 at 10:21 AM

Why is the City conducting this pilot?

Nearly 1/3 of the materials that end up at the Waste-to-Energy facility (WTE) can be composted. Collecting food scraps and food-soiled paper at the curb will keep useful materials out of the WTE, reduce harmful greenhouse gases and help Alexandria achieve a higher recycling rate.

When does the pilot start?

Food waste will be collected on your regular trash collection day starting the week of April 11.

How do I get my food waste collection bucket and other supplies?

City staff will delivery collection buckets and supplies to participants starting March 28.

How frequently will food waste be collected?

Food waste will be collected weekly, on the same day as your trash collection.

What is composting?

Composting is a natural process that breaks down organic materials, like food scraps and yard trimmings, into an earthy, nutrient-rich, soil-like material.

What is the goal of this pilot?

Over the course of this pilot, we will gather and analyze data, evaluate the efficiency of our collection routes and refine our curbside organics collection services. But most important, is discovering whether our customers are enthusiastic about this alternative waste recovery effort.

When does this pilot end?

Officially, the pilot runs for a 3-month period, but may run longer depending on initial feedback from participants and service costs. Staff will evaluate the results of the pilot and present a report to City management and City Council with recommendations for future steps for the program.

When the pilot is over, what if I want to continue?

When the pilot is over, residents who want to continue collecting food waste are encouraged to do so.  Food waste can be taken to one of the City's Farmers Markets for composting.

Why should I participate in this pilot?

There are environmental benefits to managing food waste separately from regular trash, but the costs may be prohibitive and the special-effort required of the customer too much trouble. We want to find out! Your participation will allow staff to evaluate actual costs and benefits.  And, we want to know if you found it easy or hard.

How much am I paying for this service?

There is no direct cost to participate.  City Council approved $15,000 in this year's budget to test the idea.  These funds are part of the Residential Refuse Fee so everyone who receives City-provided trash service is paying a small amount to test this alternative service.

What will happen to the food waste in my cart after the materials are collected?

After we collect your food waste at the curb, they are transported to a regional composting facility owned by the Prince Georges County Government in Maryland. Materials are placed in a large pile where microorganisms break down the materials and heat up the pile to high temperatures. After a few months, materials are transformed into an earthy, soil-like material called compost. Compost is used to fertilize plants, gardens and other outdoor areas.

Can I mix food waste with yard waste for this special collection?

At this time, food waste cannot be combined with yard trimmings for collection because the composting facility cannot handle them combined.  Participants should still set out yard trimmings for separate collection in its own dedicated container marked 'Yard Waste Only'.

Does this special food waste collection create extra pollution because of the extra truck being driven around?

We certainly hope this is not the case, but it is one of the things that will be closely measured and used to evaluate the pilot.  The results will be shared with the community.

Can I put meat, fish, or dairy in my food waste bucket?

Although these items are readily compostable, they are not acceptable at this time because of odor issues.  Please do not include these items.

Should I recycle or compost my paper products?

Paper is a very valuable resource as it is both recyclable and compostable. Clean paper products, such as unwanted mail, glossy and matte office paper and cardboard can be recycled into new paper products.  Please place clean paper items into the blue recycling cart, so they can be recycled into new paper products.

Food-soiled paper, however, cannot be recycled into new products. Once paper has been soiled, it loses much of its resale and reuse value. Luckily, paper is also compostable. Please place food-soiled paper, such as paper plates, cups, napkins, and paper towels into your red-topped food waste bucket. These food-soiled paper products will be turned into nutrient-rich compost.

For example, you could place the bottom half of a greasy, food-soiled pizza box in the red-topped food waste bucket and place the clean, residue-free top half in the blue recycling cart. Or, you could place the entire pizza box in the green organics cart. However, you should not place the entire pizza box in the blue recycling cart, as it has some food-residue remaining on it.

May I compost kitty litter, pet waste, sanitary products or diapers?

No, the composting facility has very strict requirements.  If an item is not officially approved, please do not put it in the food waste container.  Also, some of these items carry germs and may endanger City staff.

How can I keep my organics bucket clean?

Be proactive!  Minimize the liquids going into the bucket and use a bio-degradable liner in your kitchen top pail; occasionally wash out your cart with mild soap and water; and sprinkle baking soda in the cart to help control odors.  Do not use plastic bags as a liner.

How can I control odors in my bucket?

You can wash the cart with mild soap and water, and sprinkle with baking soda to help reduce odors, if needed. To minimize odors in the future, layer food scraps with food-soiled paper, such as pizza boxes. Wrapping food in paper products, such as paper bags, can help prevent sticking.  We also encourage you to set out your bucket every week to ensure it is emptied regularly.

Why aren't plastic bags accepted?

Plastic bags are not biodegradable and cannot be composted. Bags that are labeled "compostable" or "biodegradable" are acceptable if they appear on this list.  Click here.

My bucket isn't full. Should I still set it out at the curb?

Yes. No matter how full your bucket is, the City encourages you to set it out every week to help keep it clean. If you aren't able to fill the cart every week, don't worry. Crews will still collect your cart, regardless of the amount of organic materials inside. Also, the collection crews are learning their routes.  If you only put out your container once-in-a-while, we may miss you!

What are some suggestions for collecting and storing food scraps?

Collecting food scraps in a reusable container in the kitchen is an easy way to save leftovers for your food waste bucket. Coffee cans, plastic food storage containers or compost collectors can be used. If you choose to collect food scraps using paper products, you can place them directly in your cart! For example:

  • Bag food scraps in a plain paper bag to prevent scraps from sticking to the cart.
  • Collect food scraps in a cereal box or tissue box. Be sure to remove any plastic lining.
  • Wrap food scraps in a paper towel or old newspaper.

To reduce odors in your kitchen, try freezing food scraps in a reusable container until it's time to take scraps to your cart.

Where do I set my food waste bucket if I get trash collection in an alley?

Your food waste buckets should be set out at the curb in front of  your house on collection day even if you trash is collected in the alley.  Our collection vehicle cannot enter alleys.

I already compost at home. Should I still use my food waste bucket?

We congratulate you for composting at home and encourage you to continue to do so. However, in an urban setting like Alexandria composting food waste can attract unwanted visitors.  Unless you have a fully-enclosed, above-ground composter, it is best to participate in the curbside pilot.

I have leftover cooking grease and oil. Can I put them in my green cart?

No. Fats, oils and greases are not acceptable materials for composting. However, greasy foods and food-soiled papers can be placed in your cart. 

Your food waste buckets should be set out at the curb in front of  your house on collection day even if you trash is collected in the alley.  Our collection vehicle cannot enter alleys.