What is SoilMill PGH?

SoilMill PGH is a pilot project led by the Department of City Planning, Department of Public Works, and Citiparks that seeks to improve soil quality in Pittsburgh through composting. It's funded by a $90,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, with additional support granted from Natural Resources Defense Council - Food Matters, Pennsylvania Resources Council, and City of Pittsburgh's Clean Pittsburgh Commission.

2023 SoilMill PGH Compost Pilot Interest Form

We are looking for up to 300 residents across the City to test out various composting methods throughout a five-month pilot.

Interested in Participating?

The Pilot Interest form is now closed. Thank you to all interest form participants.

Year 2 Overview

Zero Waste Farmers' Markets & Park Shelters

Farmers' Markets

The City will provide the farmers' market vendors with initial compostable materials to test. The goal is to transition to zero waste markets and assist vendors with identifying affordable and reliable compostable options.

Parks' Shelters

The City will activate its Sustainable Event Guide at select park shelters by offering composting. The goal is to help shelter renters reduce the volume and weight of waste from their private events, prevent litter, discourage insect/animal scavengers, maintain the quality of our shelters, and safeguard the health and natural beauty of our park's plants and animals. For the purposes of our pilot, composting will be provided by our PGH LAB partner, Ecotone Renewables.

Community Pilots

Homewood Healthy, Active Living Center

Homewood's Healthy, Active Living Center is one of our many senior centers that provide seniors with vibrant recreational opportunities. Not only do our centers help keep our seniors busy, they also serve as community-based heating and cooling oases during inclement weather events and offer affordable healthy meal options. In our efforts to expand our zero waste initiatives, during the pilot, after lunch is served and consumed, the food waste will be transitioned to compost using a mechanical composter at this site. Mechanical composters do not require physical turning or one on one attention from staff. The staff can empty the waste into the mechanical composter and it will produce the finished compost product for soil on its own. For the purposes of our pilot, composting will be provided by our PGH LAB partner, Ecotone Renewables.

Phillips Recreational Center

Phillips Recreational Center is a community center in Carrick. The center features year-round youth programs, including a community garden with staff who are invested in the health and welfare of the children and families they serve. Composting offers the opportunity to engage with the community in STEAM based conversations such as food nutrition, soil science, gardening, engineering, and art. A traditional composting system, modernized by new methods and materials referred to as 'Hot Box' composting will be implemented as a part of various youth programs where young residents will be able to learn the importance of composting. The staff and youth will take turns building, feeding the composter and watching as it progresses to soil and compost tea. (Check back for details on the arrival, instillation and Hot Box training planned to be provided by our special guest from Harlem, NY.)

Resident, community-based composting systems pilot: SoilMill PGH

In year two of the pilot, the City is interested in testing the impact and effectiveness of existing and newly implemented community-based composting options and resources available to residents. To better assess community resources, wants, needs, and impacts, the City will need a pool of up to 300 residents from around Pittsburgh to engage with us in a 20-week pilot April 2023 - August 2023. All participating residents will receive access to valuable tools, training, a 1.3 gallon countertop food scrap collection bin and two compostable 100% cotton carbon filters. These resources will be provided in exchange for, at minimum, one hour of pilot training and agreeing to complete journals, and approximately four feedback surveys throughout the pilot. If you're interested in participating with us, please sign up using the above interest form.

In our efforts to achieve citywide participation, we will accept approximately 60 people per north, south, east, west, and central neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. Participants will be selected based on their responses to the interest form and location as determined by the provided address and zip code. At this time, we can only accept City residents into the pilot. Once selected, we will confirm your address and interests before orientation.

Brief History

Food Waste

Every year 89,000 tons of edible food waste ends up in landfills. Composting is one of the best way to reduce the amount of food thrown away.

General outreach shows there are a lot of people interested in reducing the amount of food they send to the landfill but do not have the resources or knowledge to get started. There are also community groups in Pittsburgh that participate in composting, but the scope of their work is unknown. Lastly, there are larger organizations aiming to reduce food waste by connecting healthy food surpluses to the people that need it, but right now, there are only limited connections between existing efforts. The SoilMill PGH pilot aims to connect and strengthen these projects to reduce overall food waste in Pittsburgh.

Soil Quality

Industrial processes have drastically decreased the soil quality in Pittsburgh. Years of heavy metal and chemical deposits have increased toxin levels and the acidity of the soil, therefore decreasing the nutritional value of the food grown in it and adding to increased levels of harmful air and soil exposures to substances like lead. In addition, the steep slopes in the area and high volume of shale and clay limit the root holding availability of plants, decreasing the actual land space that can grow food or hold enough water to protect against erosion.

Composting is a great way to recharge local soils. The decomposing matter releases vital nutrients that new plants are able to absorb and provide to the consumer as thriving landscapes and nutritious food. Compost also can neutralize soil acidic over time by adding materials that help correct pH, dilute contamination levels, filter air, and allow treated soil to better act as a natural carbon sink reversing the impacts of climate change.

USDA Grant Plan

This is an infographic of the two year plan for SoilMillPGH

What is Compost?

Compost is broken down organic matter that is used as a natural fertilizer for soil. Composting is the process by which compost is formed. All organic matter can be composted given the right system and conditions and anyone can do it.

Compost can be produced through large-scale industrial processes, at community gardens, in a back yard, or simply in the corner of someone's kitchen. There are different kinds of composting but the same general process is used in each: organic waste is placed into a vessel or heap, that waste undergoes some sort of "turning" to mix and introduce air. Biological and chemical processes naturally occur in the pile allowing heat to build up to break down the organic waste. Eventually, this processing produces the final product, compost. When done correctly, compost smells earthy like soil or possibly vinegar. Composting is a great way to reduce greenhouse gasses, give food waste a new purpose, and increase soil quality without adding chemicals or unnatural additives to the earth.