SoilMill PGH is funded by a $90,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. The grant allows for a public-private project that links together and strengthens existing composting projects with a new city-run system. Pittsburgh's project will take place over two years. The first year will be composed primarily of collecting data while the second year will use that data to test pilot models.
We encourage residents to connect and engage with us throughout the process by lending their feedback, thoughts, and participation through 2022 surveys and our 2023 community pilot project. Our preliminary composting survey will be active until March 28, 2022.
Check back to participate with us in our 2023 Community Compost Pilot. We'll be looking for the support of 250 residents to help us trial various residential compost solutions.
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 in large-scale industrial silos, at community gardens, or simply in someone's back yard. 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 "turning" to mix and aerate. 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. 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.
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, but right now there are only limited connections between existing efforts. The SoilMill PGH pilot aims to connect and strengthen these projects to reduce food waste in Pittsburgh.
Industrial processes have drastically decreased the soil quality in Pittsburgh. Years of heavy metal and chemical deposits have increased lead levels and the acidity of the soil, therefore decreasing the nutritional value of the food grown in it and adding to increased levels of lead exposure. 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 nutritious food. Compost also can neutralize soil acidic over time by adding materials that help correct pH, dilute lead levels, and allow treated soil to better act as a natural carbon sink.
- Conduct research to gain insight on current food systems in Pittsburgh
- How much waste is there?
- Where is it going?
- Where do people want it to go?
- What organizations and projects already exist?
- Use the data collected to design pilot projects
- Test new composting systems at supported city events
- Zero waste farmers markets
- Community pilots
- Healthy Living Center in Homewood
- Phillips Recreation Center in Carrick
- Resident, community based composting systems pilot
Year 2 Overview
Zero Waste Farmers Markets
The City will provide the East Liberty and North Side farmers market vendors with initial compostable materials. The goal is to transition to all organic and compostable waste.
Healthy Living Center
The Healthy Living Center is a senior center in Homewood that provides seniors with healthy lunches. The material lunch is served on and consumed with will be transitioned to all compostable materials. At the same time the city is going to pilot 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.
Phillips Recreational Center
The Phillips Recreational Center is a community center in Carrick. The center has a lot youth programs with staff who are very interested in this composting project. A traditional composter will be implemented as a part of various youth programs where young residents can learn the importance of composting. The staff and youth will take turns rotating the composter and watching the progress of the compost.
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 a free, stainless steel tabletop, Package Free food scrap collection bin and two compostable cotton carbon filters in exchange for one hour of pilot training and agreeing to complete three feedback surveys throughout the pilot. If you're interested in participating with us, please Sign up here.
In our efforts to achieve citywide participation, we will accept approximately the first 10 people that sign up per zip code, possibly more depending on how many people signup per-zipcode before the pilot begins in April. If you are selected for the pilot, the City will confirm your interests and pilot details with you by February 1st, 2023.