When Fort Worth’s residential composting program first launched in April 2019, city staff weren’t sure if they would find 1,000 people who wanted to collect food scraps and drop them off at a collection site each week. 

Within three months, the team had to order more composting starter kits to meet demand, said Flavia Paulino, a marketing analyst for Fort Worth’s code compliance department and the solid waste services division. 

“I had faith that out of 900,000 people that live in Fort Worth, at least 1,000 households could be interested in fighting food waste,” Paulino said. “In the beginning, we were assembling starter kits manually, and the subscriptions were coming faster than we could put kits together.” 

Nearly three years later, more than 1,600 households – out of about 297,500 in Fort Worth – have received small buckets to collect their food scraps, including fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, eggs and cooked meats. That interest was generated almost completely by word of mouth, Paulino said, since the city never launched a marketing campaign to advertise the pilot program. 

Beginning in March, Fort Worth plans to expand the number of collection sites from 15 to 21 and increase its outreach to residents about the opportunity to compost at home. The program is also moving on from its “pilot” status to become a permanent part of city operations, Paulino said. 

The shift was made possible by a $90,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant focused on funding urban compost programs and reducing food waste. A city audit found that about 30 percent of all waste headed to the landfill could be composted, Paulino added. 

“For the city right now, the main goal is to extend the life of the landfill through diversion of whatever waste we can, including food waste,” she said. “Where there’s more compost, there’s less water usage. You improve the quality of the air because there are less methane emissions.” 

Fort Worth hopes to meet an ambitious goal to triple the number of composting subscribers over the next two years, Paulino said. Currently, residents pay a $20 fee to receive a pail for their waste and a refrigerator magnet reminding them of what’s accepted at the compost drop-off sites. 

The city’s contamination rate, or the amount of forbidden materials found in its compost, has remained low at 1%. Paulino attributes the success to her department’s frequent communications with subscribers and focus on collecting food scraps versus other “organic” materials. 

“When you use the word organics, all of a sudden people think they can put pet waste or things that have pathogens that we do not want in our compost,” Paulino said. “We do the same thing with using the words ‘collection sites’ versus ‘drop off sites,’ which people think of when they bring trash or recycling. We didn’t want people dumping other stuff there.” 

Caitlin Carter, an actor and performer, enrolled in the program in 2020 after moving to Fort Worth the year before. She wishes the city would accept more compostable materials in addition to food waste like her hometown of San Francisco, which became the first U.S. city to launch a large-scale composting program in 1996.

Sign up for composting

Fill out this Eventbrite form, where you will pay a one-time $20 fee to subscribe and receive your composting starter kit.

It may take a week for the form to be processed. You will be assigned a collection station closest to your home to pick up your starter kit.

After pick up, you can start collecting food scraps in your pail. More information on the process can be found here.

“My biggest complaint is that they’re pretty strict about what you can and cannot put in compost,” Carter said. “In San Francisco, you can compost with pretty much anything: coffee filters, paper napkins, paper towels. But here, they’re really like: ‘Fruits and vegetables. That’s about it.’”

In the future, Carter hopes city officials will consider a curbside composting option to make it easier for residents less informed about composting to begin collecting food scraps. Running the compost to a collection site every seven to 10 days can be a “pain in the butt,” she said, but the outcome of making Fort Worth a more sustainable community is worth it. 

“Is it perfect?” Carter said. “No, but I’m happy that they’re actually doing it, so I’m willing to make that little effort on my part to do it.”

Curbside collection of food waste is the “ultimate goal” in Fort Worth, Paulino said, and has previously been included in the city’s list of potential infrastructure improvement projects

The idea is still far from becoming reality because of budget constraints and the complexity of creating a pilot program, setting new truck routes and buying new equipment, Paulino said. Fort Worth also lacks a large, industrial commercial facility that could accept and process all of the city’s compost. 

“With the program right now, we’re building a case study to move forward toward that goal of having curbside food waste (collection),” she said. “For now, we’ll keep expanding the number of collection sites to make it more convenient for people.”

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman FoundationContact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Haley SamselEnvironmental Reporter

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org. Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...

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