Food Scrap Recycling Landscape Assessment Guide

Resource
November 05, 2019

To kick off our Food Matters work in Denver and Baltimore, NRDC hired consultants to conduct assessments of the food scrap recycling landscape in both cities. We wanted to gain a better understanding of the current food scrap recycling capacity available locally (including both collection and processing infrastructure) and to identify key stakeholder feedback on the needs, opportunities, and barriers related to expanding food scrap recycling. This type of assessment is recommended in our Tackling Food Waste in Cities: A Policy and Program Toolkit (Strategy #10: Create and Expand Infrastructure for Organics Recycling).

This guide shares some of our key lessons learned and is accompanied by an array of additional tools to help additional cities conduct assessments in their own communities. These tools include a sample Scope of Work for assessment consultants, our final assessment reports for both Denver and Baltimore, and a sample agenda for the stakeholder roundtables we held at the conclusion of both assessments to share results and explore next steps.

Our Goals

In commissioning these assessments, our goals were to:

  1. Have consultants with local connections generate an overview of the food scrap recycling landscape in each community, focusing on composting and anaerobic digestion facilities in the region (including smaller-scale operations where feasible).
  2. Assess existing organics recycling collection infrastructure as well as needs, opportunities, and barriers related to expanding this infrastructure.
  3. Identify and map potential large generators of wasted food that could be a consistent source of feedstock for processing.
  4. Identify opportunities and barriers related to expanding organics recycling.
  5. Prepare a written report summarizing the key observations, findings, and conclusions from the above research, and present the research at two community meetings.

Lessons Learned

Over the course of the assessment, we learned a variety of lessons:

Consultant selection
It was critical to select consultants who brought an appropriate combination of content knowledge, credibility in the community, the capacity to synthesize and clearly communicate information from a wide array of stakeholders, and the ability to complete a complex project in a fairly compressed time frame. A request for proposals (RFP) can be helpful in identifying appropriate consultants.

Research methods
Our food scrap recycling assessments focused on one-on-one interviews and local data as primary sources of information. Interviewees included city government staff, food scrap recycling processors and haulers, nonprofit recycling organizations, potential and existing community compost facilities, and other stakeholders. The consultants drew on city and state government and research data related to food scrap recycling as well as research and analysis available from other local stakeholders.

Timeline
The assessments took roughly three months from the time the consulting contracts were signed until the final reports were completed. Afterward, we scheduled community meetings to share the results. This timeline was manageable, but intense given the scope and complexity of the work and the time needed to write a thorough final report.

Challenges
Overall the assessments yielded the types of information we were seeking. However, one challenge in both Baltimore and Denver was estimating the potential cost of recommended improvements in food scrap recycling infrastructure, including both city-level investment in larger-scale collection and processing infrastructure and opportunities to expand smaller-scale food scrap recycling. A key next step for both communities is working with city agencies, local funders, and others to chart a course for describing and quantifying the cost of needed investments and identifying potential pathways to mobilize those resources.

Community stakeholder meetings
At the conclusion of the assessment process, we held roundtable events in both Denver and Baltimore to share the results with stakeholders. These roundtables were key for engaging stakeholders in the process and building buy-in around the results. As part of those events, we broke attendees into small groups and asked them to identify the assessment recommendations they felt were most important for action. That exercise was highly instrumental in gauging where the community had energy to move from analysis to implementation. A sample agenda for this type of event is provided as part of this tool kit.

Follow-up
After the assessment reports were finalized and released, they were used to inform development of each city government’s Food Matters work plan and were integral to NRDC’s thinking about how to deploy the small grant funding we had available to support capacity building among organizations in both cities. We also heard from local organizations that they used the recommendations to hone their own priorities and build the case with funders for financial support for key areas of investment. The assessments have provided a valuable reference point as we and local stakeholders prioritize future actions. They have also helped shed light on areas where additional research is needed.