As operators of the Scott County Landfill continue to whittle down the number of items that get buried there, one category that looms large — accounting for about 20 percent of residential trash — is food waste.

That includes food that becomes old in the fridge, unwanted leftovers, coffee grounds and filters, plate scrapings and various peelings that people don't put down their garbage disposals, including big things like sweet corn husks and watermelon rinds.

Some communities such as Iowa City already collect food waste to be composted rather than sent to the landfill, and the Waste Commission of Scott County has decided it wants to explore the possibility, Kathy Morris, commission director, said.

In March, Morris will recommend that the commission solicit proposals from firms that would conduct a study looking into all the ramifications including cost.

Questions would include how the waste would be collected, where it would go for composting, and how collection would impact Scott County communities.

The Davenport Compost Facility would be involved in the study because, at present, it takes yard waste and mixes it with bio-solids from the city's Water Pollution Control Plant to make compost that it sells.

But it's not known whether the facility would have the capacity to accept food waste and, if it did, how the new material would impact the successful "recipe" it currently uses to create quality compost, Morris said.

 "We don't want to mess up the Compost Facility," she said.

The study is expected to cost between $20,000 and $40,000 and would be done sometime in the fall of 2018, she said.

Ever since the effort to divert as many items as possible from landfills began with passage of the Ground Water Protection Act by the Iowa Legislature in 1987, the volume of materials going to landfills has been greatly reduced.

Among the materials already diverted from the Scott Area Landfill are yard waste (grass clippings, leaves, sticks), household recyclables (glass, plastics, paper, aluminum), household hazardous waste (paint, cleansers), tires, scrap metal, shingles, appliances, lead-acid batteries and electronics.

Residential food waste may be "the next thing we can pull out," Morris said.

The finding that about 20 percent of the landfill's residential waste is food came from a study conducted in May by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in which contracted workers sorted through all the landfill's garbage to see what people were throwing away.

Similar studies were done at 14 other landfills/solid waste transfer stations throughout the state, and the 20 percent finding was typical statewide.

This represents a 50 percent increase in food waste at the Scott landfill since the last study was done in 2011, but that does not necessarily mean people are throwing away more food, Morris said. It could be that as people recycle more, reducing the total volume sent to the landfill, the percentage that is food waste begins to account for a higher percentage.

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