GREEN PROJECT: City of Fort Worth Residential Food Scrap Composting Pilot Program

Description of Individual or Organization

The City of Fort Worth Residential Food Scrap Composting Pilot Program (RFSCPP) is a subscription-based food waste diversion project where residents can sign up to drop-off their food scraps at one of 12 collection sites around the City. 

Residents subscribe to the program for a one-time fee of $20, pick up a starter kit which includes a 5-gallon sealable bucket, kitchen countertop pail, a fridge magnet with quick do’s and don’ts, a large sticker with an expanded list of items that are accepted/not accepted, and a welcome letter with further program instructions. Subscribers are encouraged to drop off food scraps weekly and receive monthly updates on program progress via an email newsletter.

All program fees are donated to Keep Fort Worth Beautiful, so our funding goes further.

Leadership (Nominee demonstrates leadership through example, knowledge, attitude)

The RFSCPP is the first municipal composting program in North Texas and was initially funded by a grant from the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality based on the large success of our Master Composter volunteer program, which sees more than 1500 hours donated for sustainable outreach each year. 

The program demonstrates feasibility for municipal composting in the region and was even toured by the City of Dallas as a model. The Cities of Garland, Plano, and Waco, as well as the area member affiliates of Keep Texas Beautiful, were also educated on this program’s operations. The program has also started a real conversation with residents about food waste, which is more than 20% of what’s going into Fort Worth’s depleted landfill space, and helped develop external community composting partnerships between small businesses and local urban agriculture projects.

The program also provides consistent feedback, demographic, and behavioral data gathering through the subscribers, who fill out a detailed demographic survey when signing up and can opt-in to participate in a texting program to track drop-offs. This information helps us improve the program logistics and messaging in real time and will help us build better programs for the future. Basic information like total weight of materials collected and contamination rates has also been released to subscribers via newsletter and to the general public via Facebook, with a positive impression response. The results of a self-reported study of subscribers, currently being performed by graduate students of the TCU Department of Nutritional Sciences, will also be made public. This study will help us understand factors that influence residential participation in an urban composting program, and the impact upon food and overall waste in participating households. 

Environmental Impact (Nominee demonstrates a positive impact on the local environment via policy change, product offering, significant volunteer contribution or other achievement)

The program launched in April 2019 and, as of July 31, 2020, has enrolled over 1,105 residents, who have diverted about 130,805 lbs (or 65 tons) of food waste from the Fort Worth landfill, with less than one percent contamination. For perspective, the residential recycling contamination rate in Fort Worth is currently 36 percent. 

The program, by reducing food waste in the landfill, also reduces methane generated by the landfill; the US EPA estimates food waste to contribute to 18 percent of landfill methane discharges on average.

The program by design also promotes the development of commercial composting infrastructure, raises visibility of the issue of food waste, and promotes the use of compost over commercial fertilizer. 

Community Impact (Nominee demonstrates commitment to DFW green community through involvement with causes, business ventures or organizations)

Conceived as an expansion of the City’s Master Composter program, the RFSCPP offers the opportunity to apartment dwellers as well as to those who, for one reason or another, do not compost in the backyard the chance to participate in the collective effort of diverting food scraps away from the City landfill. Additionally, for those households which currently compost in their backyard the RFSCPP offers them the possibility and the means to further compost proteins (meats and dairy products) which typically are not composted in a backyard setting.

The program serves as a model for North Texas municipalities, and the program and operations was toured by the City of Dallas as a model for their potential future programs. The Cities of Garland, Plano, and Waco, were also educated on this program’s operations, and Keep Texas Beautiful hosted a presentation over the program for a recent training webinar series for their North Texas affiliates. 

Graduate students of the TCU Nutritional Sciences Department selected our subscribers for a self-reported study that looks at positive spillover behaviors associated with participants in a municipal food scrap collection program. 

The program has also helped drive awareness and development of business-community partnerships to divert spent coffee grounds and food waste to area urban agriculture projects, school gardens, and community gardens. For example, Ampersand, a local coffee shop, currently diverts over 1000lbs of grounds per week from its two locations to the UNT Health & Science Center Community Garden and the Tarrant Area Food Bank Learning Garden.

Other reasons for your nomination

The RFSCPP is unique among other municipal composting programs around the country for three reasons:

a. Our remarkably low contamination rate of 0.8 percent, especially since several of the collection sites are located in public parks and left unattended except during pick-ups. This has been achieved by:

i. Limiting the program to food scraps only

ii. Using careful and specific messaging in marketing materials 

iii. Continuous communication with program subscribers via newsletter, email, phone calls, etc. 

iv. Quarterly review and refinement of operations

v. Using combination locks on the compost carts, for which only subscribers and staff have the code.

b. Our participants are highly engaged. There’s a steady stream of communication and education between the City and program subscribers. A large percentage participate in the text-in tracking every time they drop off their food scraps, and several hundred have advertised their participation with a promotional yard sign or shared their experience on Facebook or on the Nextdoor app. Word-of-mouth and Neighborhood Groups continue to be the second and third largest drivers of new subscribers, right after the City’s website.

c. Our program tracking is highly detailed and produces invaluable information to help us build and improve future programs:

i. Households subscribed are tracked through an enrollment form that records not only demographic information but also source of awareness of the program, preferred food scraps collection sites, and recycling habits.

ii. Materials in each compost collection cart are weighed, then contamination is sorted out and weighed by hauler before remaining pure material is transported to the commercial compost facility, so we can monitor and compare the use of individual collection sites and the program as a whole. 

iii. Nearly 65 percent of program subscribers self-report participation/food waste drop-offs through our SMS or “text-in” tracking tool, helping us track engagement, days, times and locations where drop-offs are most likely to happen. City of Fort Worth Database tracking is also used when residents visit a collection site located within one of the City’s four Drop-Off Stations. Traffic and materials are already tracked at the Drop-Off Stations, so a note of ‘compost’ is simply tagged to the visit for their account.