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Environmental Services

Organics

Food waste, yard trimmings and other organics make up over a third of the material, by weight, that we manage for our customers. Wasted food is a major economic and environmental challenge across the globe.

In the U.S. alone, more than 75 billion pounds of food is wasted each year, and displaced food carries a price tag of well over $161 billion. The U.S. EPA estimates that more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash, making up 24% of the disposed waste stream. And when factoring in the energy used to grow, process and ship food, as well as the emissions released when it decomposes, food waste adds billions of tons of GHG emissions to the atmosphere.

While the concept of a circular economy is most often applied to manufactured goods, it also applies to organics, including food. The benefits of managing food and yard waste at end of life are significant—and businesses and governments are taking action. In California, SB 1383 aims to divert the majority of organic waste from landfills and increase the recovery of edible food for people in need by 2025.

Where possible, WM helps prevent food from being wasted and encourages its redistribution through local food donation programs. For other organic material, we continue to invest in new or expanded programs for handling at end of life. Although the pandemic significantly slowed or halted food waste programs and municipal project development related to organic waste, WM continued to invest in new organics processing capabilities to meet our customers’ needs.

Organics Processing
Facilities

  • 33 Compost/Mulch
  • 5 Wood Waste
  • 4 CORe®
  • 42 Total

Food Donation

Preventing food waste upstream benefits the environment in terms of emissions reduction and helps communities in need by providing nutrition that would otherwise go unused. When possible, WM works with companies and municipalities to donate unused food to food banks before it gets thrown away. Throughout the pandemic, we also stepped up our efforts to address food insecurity through our Million Meals match campaign, our A Can if You Can program, as well as dozens of events supporting local communities across the country.

Turning Food Waste into Energy

Food that is no longer suitable for human or animal consumption can become a source of renewable energy. Through CORe®, WM’s proprietary organics recycling process, food waste from residential, commercial and industrial sources such as grocery stores, municipalities, schools, event spaces and food manufacturing is collected and screened to remove contaminants, such as plastic and packaging, before it is blended into an engineered slurry. The slurry is injected into treatment facility digesters in existing wastewater treatment infrastructure. This process increases the biogas produced by the digester by as much as 200% without notably increasing its residual digestate. This gas can then be used as a renewable power source, enabling municipal customers to produce heat and power from their own food waste. Due to the pandemic, many municipalities temporarily suspended their residential organics services. While this affected WM’s CORe® facilities in 2020, we are beginning to see a resurgence of these programs in 2021.

Another example of food waste being converted to energy is at WM’s Sun Valley Recycling Park in Los Angeles, which includes a municipal solid waste (MSW) transfer station and a MRF with organics processing capabilities. There, WM partners with Anaergia, a company that has developed a process for separating food and other organics from nondigestible material collected from commercial and multifamily facilities. After an extrusion process, the “wet fraction” is transported to a digester where it can be converted into renewable energy and fertilizer products, including renewable natural gas. Meanwhile, leftover solids will be recycled, and Anaergia is planning to use a process called pyrolysis, where these solids are dried and broken down under high heat. The resulting material is biochar, which can be used in agricultural applications. The Sun Valley facility can extract up to 450 tons of organic waste every day.

12.7 tons
of food donated to local food banks during the week of the WM Phoenix Open.

Compost as a Soil Amendment Solution

Composting and mulching are proven, low-cost solutions for managing large volumes of organic materials, particularly yard waste. WM has 38 facilities that process organic material into compost and mulch, as well as new organic solutions developed in collaboration with customers. Compost products are used to improve soil structure and quality by supplying macro- and micronutrients and beneficial microflora. The high amount of organic matter in compost also increases soils’ capacity to hold water. This is particularly important in areas where drought conditions make water an especially precious resource. Much like the recycling process, WM’s composting services help create a closed loop: food and yard waste becomes compost, which in turn helps feed the next season’s crops.

We process yard waste and food waste into compost using a variety of methods including the windrow method and the covered aerated static pile (CASP) method. The method chosen is based on permitting, space, cost, climate and other variables.

Inside a Windrow Compost Facility

Food and yard scraps are transformed into a mixture that resembles rich, dark soil, ready to deliver to customers. Here’s how the process unfolds.

Yard waste and food waste arrive in commingled form, from a variety of sources including commercial, residential, municipal and industrial customers.

After sorting to remove contaminants, the organic material is formed into long piles, called windrows, which generate heat as microorganisms break down the organic matter.

Machinery turns and mixes the piles, incorporating air that helps in the decomposition process. Temperature and moisture are carefully monitored, ensuring that the natural process can unfold regardless of weather conditions.

The compost is passed through screens that create a product with a consistent particle size.

WM Compost at Work

CORe®

Compost/Mulch

Much of the food and yard waste WM collects from homes and businesses eventually becomes compost, which can be applied to
farm fields and landscaping to increase the health of soils.

See the many ways the organics we collect take on a new life
by clicking each number on the map to learn more.

1

Willow Ranch Compost Facility

Scotts Miracle-Gro produces soil amendments for lawns and gardens under a number of brand names. WM’s Willow Ranch Landscape Waste Facility provides some 70,000 yards of compost to two Scotts facilities in northern Illinois every year. Willow Ranch’s compost is listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) and is screened to Scotts Miracle-Gro’s precise specifications. WM is a major supplier for the company’s Performance Organics brand of soil.

2

Glanbrook Composting Facility

In Hamilton, Ontario, WM operates the Glanbrook Composting Facility. Yard waste from the city’s curbside collection program is delivered to the composting facility, where it begins the process of transformation into compost. As part of our agreement with the city, we make 10% of our finished compost available for use in municipal projects, like community gardens and compost giveaway events.

3

Central Valley Compost Facility

Beyond growing crops, certain types of soil can be used to manage stormwater by filtering out pollutants that can harm ecosystems. To do this job properly, soils must be blended with ingredients like sand and clay, while including enough nutrients for plants to grow. WM’s Central Valley Compost Facility supplies compost so that customer NorCal Ag Service can do exactly that. NorCal’s bioretention soils are used in low-impact development projects throughout the Bay Area. See more about how our compost is used as a soil amendment by organics farmers below.

4

Okeechobee Compost Facility

In central Florida, high-quality compost is in demand from the region’s citrus groves. Compost from WM’s Okeechobee Compost Facility has high organic matter, helps boost crop production and reduces the impact of citrus greening disease. The Okeechobee Facility also creates a niche product specifically for use on golf courses. The facility, which opened in 2012, can produce up to 10,000 cubic yards of mature compost each year.

5

Strathmore Compost Facility

In Alberta, Canada, WM’s Strathmore Compost Facility and Eagle Lake Professional Landscape Supply have a mutually beneficial relationship. Strathmore converts green waste and food waste into mature compost that Eagle Lake uses to develop soil blends for its professional landscaping customers. At its distribution site in Calgary, Eagle Lake collects its own green waste and hauls it to Strathmore, where it is eventually composted—a closed-loop process where outputs from one partner become inputs for the other.