Pilot Organics Program Dead?

Posted August 27th, 2014 @ 7:31 AM by

So many projects dead or dying this week . . . this one comes with a good, but slightly ridiculous explanation, seriously, $120,000 in the capital budget? Methinks high jinks are afoot! Ah, budget games!

Dear Friends, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I must inform you that the City of Madison’s organic pilot program will be ending. The last collection of material will be Tuesday September 23rd.

We had hoped to expand the pilot program this year and begin construction of a digester for process the organic material in 2016. A citywide organics collection was slated for 2017. As part of his 2015 Capital Budget, the Mayor has decided to push back construction plans for the digester at least one year.

The project could be delayed as much as five years due to other priorities and the strict cost controls imposed by the state which make it difficult to start new programs. As you know, we have been taking the material from our pilot program to the digester at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. This is the only facility in the state that can handle our pilot material. Unfortunately, the Oshkosh digester was not designed to remove non compostable material. Our pilot material contains too much non compostable plastic for their system. While it is a small percentage of the total material, it has to be removed. We had planned to screen our material prior to taking it to Oshkosh which would solve this problem. The delay in constructing the digester makes it impractical to expand and continue the pilot given the need to make some kind of investment in a screen to meet the requirements for Oshkosh.

A screen to do the job costs $9,500 per month to rent. We can purchase one for about $120,000. We do not have funds for the screen now that the digester has been delayed. The original plan to expand the pilot in 2014 and perhaps 2015 was based on the assumption that the digester would be built in 2016. The pilot expansion would allow us to ease into a full time program by getting residents, events, and businesses used to separating organics.

It would also give use a good deal of material to get the digester through the start up phase. With the project delayed, the expansion and continuation of the pilot represents is a cost (special collection, screening, hauling to Oshkosh, and slightly higher tip fees) that our budget will not support given the demands on the Streets Division associated with the emerald ash borer, bike path maintenance , and higher landfill costs among other programs.

Please continue to put out your organics carts for collection. On the 23rd, we plan to pick up the carts so leave them at the curb after they have been emptied. You may keep your kitchen collectors. If you no longer want your kitchen collector, please wash it out and place it in your green recycling cart.

You can expect to get an electronic survey in the next few weeks. The information you will provide will be helpful in our planning efforts going forward.

I want to thank you for all of your help. Thanks to you the organics pilot has been very successful. You have proved that we can make a curbside organics collection program work in Madison. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. I can be reached at gdreckmann@cityofmadison.com or at 608-267-2626. Again, thank you for all of your help. George

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