Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 23 percent of the US waste stream, as documented by EPA. An estimated 56.9 percent of yard trimmings were recovered for composting or grasscycled in 2000, a dramatic increase from the 12 percent recovery rate in 1990. Accompanying this surge in yard waste recovery is a composting industry that has grown from less than 1,000 facilities in 1988 to nearly 3,800 in 2000. Once dominated by public sector operations, the composting industry is increasingly entrepreneurial and private-sector driven, led by firms that add value to compost products through processing and marketing. Compost prices have been as high as $26 per ton for landscape mulch to more than $100 per ton for high-grade compost, which is bagged and sold at the retail level.
While yard trimmings recovery typically involves leaf compost and mulch, yard trimmings can also be combined with other organic waste, such as food residuals, animal manure, and biosolids to produce a variety of products with slightly different chemical and physical characteristics. In contrast to yard trimmings recovery, only 2.6 percent of food waste was composted in 2000. The cost-prohibitive nature of residential food waste separation and collection is the primary deterant to expanding food waste recovery efforts. Yet in many communities, edible food residuals are donated to the needy, while inedible food residuals are blended into compost or reprocessed into animal feed. In some areas, composting operations are working with high-volume commercial and institutional food producers to recover their food byproducts, saving these firms significant disposal costs.
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