Food Waste Collection Pilot

Welcome to Phase 2 of the City of Durham’s pilot program for the curbside collection of food scraps and thank you for your willingness to assist us as we continue to develop the program for Durham!  And thank you to residents of the 80 households that have been participating in the first phase of our pilot program since January 2022.

What will be different in Phase 2 of the program?

In Phase 2, the project team will estimate how much organic, compostable material could be diverted from the landfill if  the program were to be expanded City-wide.  This information will help us develop a budget to identify costs and potential savings; a necessary step in determining the feasibility of scaling this program to all of Durham’s residents.  

What will be the same in Phase 2 of the program as Phase 1?

The 500 households separating their food scraps will follow the same process as those in Phase 1.  Phase 1 helped us learn how best to communicate to our residents about what is, and is not, acceptable to be put in the food scraps collection carts.  We know that one of the most important things for participants is that the program be as easy to use and as free of problems as possible, so we encourage you to share information with us, to let us know if you have questions or are experiencing any problems.

The most common complaints that are heard about food waste collection generally concern either odors or fruit flies.  We believe that by providing residents with both an indoor countertop container and an outdoor cart, these problems can be minimized.   The indoor countertop containers have lids that seal and built in filters.  We are looking for our program participants to tell us how well these containers work (or don’t) for them in order to help us make wise decisions before we continue to expand the program.

All households that are separating food scraps should follow the steps below for properly sorting their food scraps and setting out their carts for collection. 

Here's how the process will work:

  • All program participants are asked to separate food scraps that they would normally place in their garbage container for disposal, and instead place them in the provided food scraps cart for collection each Friday. To help with this process, we are also providing a countertop container for use in your kitchen when preparing food and cleaning up after meals.collect food waste at your house
  • We then need you to place your food scraps cart at the curb by 6:00 am each Friday for collection by our City truck. Please set your cart out each Friday regardless of its level of fullness, as this will assist us in recording quantities collected for future program waste collected by Solid Waste Management Department
  • Instead of going to the landfill for disposal, the food waste will be transported to the City’s composting facility to be composted by our composting waste goes to landfill for composting

What can I include?

list of appropriate food scraps

How can I reduce odor?

tips for reducing smell

Is there anything else I need to know?

We ask that all participants complete three surveys, and share their experiences with us so we can learn what works and what doesn’t, directly from program participants. These surveys are very important, so we ask all participants to make every effort to complete all three when requested to do so. We need your help to design a program that works and meets residents’ needs before we continue to expand the program. 

learn more about the project


Why did you start with Walltown?  
One of the community goals in Walltown is to improve environmental sustainability, something that aligns very well with composting. Since this is a pilot program, we also wanted to select a region of Durham that was representative of the demographic makeup of our city. 

 How/Why did you choose the neighborhoods for Phase 2?  
Our team worked with other City staff to identify several additional neighborhoods that included different socio-economic characteristics and were also located within a reasonable travel distance from our Solid Waste facilities to maintain manageable travel distances.  We were also limited to households on routes served by one of three trucks that have on-board scales for weighing carts as they are collected, to provide us with weight data.    

 Why collect food waste?  
Food waste makes up as much as 30% of the weight of items that get disposed of as garbage. Did you know that food waste is the primary source of methane at landfill sites? Composting diverts food waste from the landfill and reduces greenhouse gas production. Food waste not sent to landfill can be composted to create a valuable soil amendment. The City is already collecting food waste as garbage. The pilot program will instead collect it in a different truck and deliver it to our composting contractor, Atlas Organics instead of it going to disposal in landfill. Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, like food scraps, into fertilizer that feeds soil and plants.    

 Where will my food waste go? 
Our partner and contractor, Atlas Organics will continue to receive and process your food waste to turn it into rich compost that can be used in vegetable beds, parks and gardens. Learn more about Atlas Organics.

 What happens after the pilot ends?
At the end of 12 weeks, each participant will be asked to complete a final survey because your feedback is valuable and we want to know your thoughts on what worked, what didn’t work and why. Your input will help determine if this type of program can be offered to more neighborhoods and what types of resources will be needed to make that successfully happen. 

 I have a friend/family member who would like to be a part of the program.  What should I tell them?
Please tell them to e-mail us at the [email protected] e-mail with their name and address to let us know of their interest so that we may consider them for future  phases of the our pilot program.

Frequently Asked Questions


"What all can be included as "food related paper products"?" 
For this pilot, we are limiting it to paper towels, paper napkins, paper coffee filters, pizza boxes and molded paper fiber trays, paper plates and paper towel roll cores.  Printing on the items is not an issue.   

"Can I include oil and grease in the cart?"
Oil and grease is acceptable on paper towels or napkins that have been used to wipe off a plate or pan, but not in larger quantities.  

"Will you be adding reminders to the City of Durham Roll Out App for those who are participating in the food waste collection pilot?"
Yes, the app has been updated to provide reminders for the participants in the food scrap collection pilot who are using the app.  If you do not currently use the very handy Roll Out app, we encourage you to consider doing so -- see the logo in the column to the right.    

"Why are we not allowed to use "biodegradable" bags or include other "biodegradable" products?"
Unfortunately, not all products claimed to be "Biodegradable" truly are, at least not as part of the composting process used by the City's contractor.  While some certainly are, those that are not become contaminants in the composting process which could result in entire loads of food scraps ending having to be thrown away rather than composted.   

"Why do I have to remove stickers from fruit and vegetables? They are so small - is it really a big deal?"
The small stickers attached to many fruits and vegetables are plastic and so do not break down during the composting process.  They become contaminants in the composting process, remaining visible in the finished compost, making it undesirable for buyers.  The same goes for twist ties and rubber bands, so please be sure to leave them out as well. 

"Why can't I include shredded paper?"
All too often, shredded paper ends up including plastic from window envelopes, plastic credit card samples, etc. that, like the items noted above, do not decompose and so likewise become contaminants in the final compost product.  Paper towels and napkins can be included.  

"Can I put leaves, grass clippings or other yard materials in my food scraps cart?"
This pilot is only for collection of food scraps so leaves, grass and other trimmings from your yard are not to be included in the food waste cart.  

"I'm also a yard waste customer - can I just put my food scraps in my yard waste cart?"
This pilot is only for collection of food scraps so it is important that only food scraps be placed in the food scraps cart and only yard waste continue to be placed in yard waste carts.  

What if I have problems?
Call us, e-mail us or text us - we’re here to help!  

Call 919-560-4186 during normal business hours (Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

Email [email protected] 

Text 919-986-6799