"Black gold:" City of Milwaukee tests organics collection, a new trash trend

MILWAUKEE — It is the biggest trend in waste management: organics collection. City of Milwaukee officials want to know if it can work. Right now, the city is testing organics collection.

Nearly 500 Milwaukee households signed up for a new organics composting pilot study.

"I was really excited to see the city was doing this project," said Nick Fleisher.

Nick Fleisher is part of a organics collection pilot study in Milwaukee.

Fleisher's family uses it mostly for kitchen scraps.

"I've found that since we started the program, that our garbage bin is a lot less full each week," Fleisher said.

Before the program, Fleisher tried composting in his own backyard without much success. He said this is easier.

"We have a garbage bin, a recycling bin and now we have a compost bin as well," Fleisher said.

Households who signed up for the project received a brown organics cart in November as part of a one-year pilot study.

During the winter, pick-up is every other week. The rest of year, the organics bins are picked up weekly.

A brown ogranics cart is picked up at a home in Bayview.

"The mayor and the Common Council have supported a policy of diverting 40% of what we generate from the landfill by the year 2020," said Rick Meyers, the sanitation services manager for the City of Milwaukee.

The program's participants are mostly single family homes in the Bayview, East Side and Riverwest neighborhoods.

It costs $12.75 a month for collection.

Milwaukee is hardly the first city to test an organics program. The city is following in the steps of places like Madison, Portland and Minneapolis.

Here's how Milwaukee's compost pilot program works: You start with the compostable bag provided by the city.

Vegetables scraps are one of many items that can be composted as part of the organics collection pilot study.

You can compost any old fruits and vegetables, including the peels. You can  compost any bread, grains or nuts. In addition, cooked meat and any eggs or egg shells can go in the bin. You can also compost any dairy products. Lastly,  you can put in any coffee and the coffee filter. Milwaukee has a complete list of compostable items HERE. Yard waste can also go in the organics bin.

Blue Ribbon Organics in Caledonia

Once the ogranic materials are collected they are sent to Blue Ribbon Organics in Caledonia.

Everything collected is dumped, ground up and churned into long lines called windrows.

"The steam is the heat generated as that organic matter is breaking down into carbon dioxide and water," Meyers explained.

The piles are continuously turned over to keep the decomposition going. The compost piles reach full maturity in three to six months depending on the season. Once it reaches the end stage, it can be sold to landscape supply companies and gardeners.

Wind-rows of composted materials reach full maturity in three to six months.

"This is the black gold. It could go to the landfill, but if we recover it, capture that organic matter, break it down — now we've got something we can enrich our soils and our gardens with it," Meyers said as he showed off the final product from organic waste.

Final product from organics compost that can be sold to landscape supply companies and gardeners.

The pilot ends in November. At that time, Milwaukee will decide whether it's worth expanding the program citywide.

Fleisher hopes that happens.

"It seems to be working really well for us," Fleisher said.

The City of Milwaukee purchased the carts for the pilot program for just under $22,000. The cost of the carts, as well as staff costs for planning, education, administration and promotion are all absorbed by the Department of Public Works. Participants are paying toward ongoing service costs that include collection and processing of the organics.

Right now, Milwaukee's organics collection pilot program is full and not adding anymore participants. If the city votes to expand the program more families will be able to join.