Reuse and recycle food and construction waste



Begins to reduce illegal dumping of construction debris, offers residents inexpensive building materials for reuse, reduces sewer back-ups from grease


Improves air and soil quality, helps to create renewable biofuels, lowers energy use and reduces landfill dumping and incineration


Creates green jobs in composting, biofuel production and construction material salvaging, lowers city’s landfill fees

Peer Cities

Portland, OR requires restaurants to compost food waste. San Francisco requires restaurants to provide grease for biofuel production. Chicago requires half of construction and demolition waste to be reused.
Having dramatically increased the amount of paper, plastic and glass that the city recycles, Next Great City seeks to extend Philadelphia’s recycling success to three additional types of waste: (1) food waste to be composted, (2) used fryer grease to be sold in part for biofuel production, and (3) demolition and construction building materials to be reused on future construction.

Next Great City asks City Council to create a food waste collection pilot program for restaurants and other large food providers. Participants in the pilot program will be asked to separately store their food scraps – about 40 percent of their total garbage - for collection and composting into eco-friendly plant fertilizer. Savings from reduced waste hauler fees due to lower trash amounts will pay for the costs of the pilot. For example, the University of Pennsylvania currently sends about four tons of food waste a week to a Wilmington (DE) composting facility and reports an overall 10 percent savings compared to using the local landfill.[1] A key goal of the pilot will be to document and publicize these cost savings in order to encourage other businesses to compost rather than landfill their food waste. The organic waste firm selected for the pilot should agree to collect and compost for the amount the food provider currently pays, record the quantities collected, the cost of collection, and the amount of compost created. Given the opportunity to create new local jobs, Philadelphia-based composting firms should be given a preference in contract bidding. 

The pilot program should also collect used fryer grease for reuse in areas such as biofuel production. Used grease, fat and oils have become profitable for resale, currently listed on the Wall Street Commodities Market at $2.50 a gallon or $6,000 for a 2,500 gallon barrel.[2] Unfortunately, many restaurants continue to throw the grease out, or worse, throw it down the drain where it clogs Philadelphia sewers and causes backups. The pilot program will educate restaurants and large food producers on the benefits of providing grease, fat and oil to local biofuel companies in return for free collection. Only those that do not currently sell their grease will be eligible to be part of the program. The biofuel company that the city selects for the collection of the grease and oil will provide Council with careful records on exactly how much grease was collected, how it was used, and the cost of collection.  

Additionally, City Council should require public sector construction and demolition projects to reuse and recycle building materials. For city-owned and city-funded new construction and renovation projects exceeding $10 million in construction costs, a requirement that 50 percent of building materials and 100 percent of asphalt, brick and concrete must be salvaged and reused or recycled, will divert tons of materials that are currently landfilled.[3] Philadelphia has several non-profit organizations whose primary mission is to store and provide these materials for later reuse. Requiring diversion of construction materials will help Greenworks Philadelphia meet a key goal and create a larger market for businesses that can sort and process construction waste and attract new jobs.

Sorting and processing recyclables alone sustain 10 times more jobs per ton than landfilling or incineration. Reuse creates up to 60 times as many jobs.[4]

Finally, City Council should work with the Administration to update Philadelphia’s outdated recycling ordinance, passed in 1987. The goal is to codify and legalize current practices such as single-stream and incentive-based recycling, and update current diversion and participation goals. There have been many advances in recycling in the past 25 years that should be included within the Code. 

[1] Dan Sullivan and Nora Goldstein, Urban Facility Delivers Food Waste Composting Capacity, BioCycle Vol. 51, No. 6, p. 16 (June 2010).

[2] Susan Saulny, As Oil Prices Soar, Restaurant Grease Thefts Rise, New York Times (May 20, 2008)


[3] Goals were adopted from the Sustainable Business Network report: Elliot Gould, Developing Construction & Demolition Waste Recovery in Philadelphia, Sustainable Business Network (2010).

[4] Job Creation: Reuse and Recycling Vs. Disposal data, Institute for Local Self-Reliance Recycling Means Business Website Page downloaded February 14, 2011.