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Food Waste and Yard Debris

Food waste and yard debris are organic materials and make up to 24% of the waste stream. While some items (grass, leaves, garden trimmings, and brush) are banned from Wisconsin landfills by State law, all of these items can be kept out of landfills to conserve natural resources and help create healthier soil through composting.

Backyard composting is a great way to handle yard debris or a combination of food waste and yard debris. To support backyard composters, the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works holds an annual compost bin sale.

Food Waste

Food waste is a large part of our waste stream that is being wasted by sending it to the landfill. Learn more about how you can reduce the amount of food waste sent to the landfill by cutting down on food items that often end up in your garbage can, using garbage disposals, composting in your yard, or finding other community compost opportunities.

Have a small space, but still want to compost? Check out Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful's presentation on just that!

Did You Know?

Worldwide, 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. American’s sent 1/3 of their fruits and vegetables to landfills in 2013. 37 million tonsof food waste was generated with only 5% being diverted.

Food Waste accounts for about 21% of our waste. Food waste happens where food is grown, where it is processed, where it is sold, and in the home. In 2010 each person sent 218.9 pounds of food for disposal from their homes, restaurants, and school and work cafeterias. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is using this data to set a goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030.

All of this food takes an enormous amount of natural resources and energy to create. U.S. food production accounts for:

  • 70% of global water use
  • 13.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions

By 2050, rising populations and incomes are expected to result in a 70% increase in global demand for agricultural production.

How to Divert Food Waste

Source Reduction

(Stop food waste before it starts)

Industrial Uses


Yard Debris

Yard Debris or yard waste is a broad category of waste that describes a variety of items that are banned from the landfill due to a State law that became effective July 1, 1993. Yard waste is easily composted and, if allowed to be landfilled, would unnecessarily consume valuable landfill space and emit methane gas.

Items that cannot be placed in your garbage cart include leaves, grass clippings, yard and garden debris and brush, including clean woody vegetative material no greater than 6 inches in diameter.

Branches and Brush


  • Using your lawn mower, mulch the leaves and let them return to the soil
  • Compost on-site
  • Take to a Drop off Center
  • The City offers a Fall Leaf Collection (Oct. 1 - Nov. 15). Visit website to confirm dates. 

Grass Clippings

  • Leave them on the lawn to decompose and nourish the soil or compost
  • Take to a Drop off Center
  • Grass clippings are not collected curbside at any time and it is a violation of City ordinance to blow or move them into the street.

Garden Debris and Weeds

  • Garden debris includes material from vegetable and flower gardens like tomato vines, dead plants, corn and sunflower stalks, and weeds.
    • Compost on-site
    • Take to a Drop off Center
    • Garden debris can be placed on top of leaves during the official City fall leaf collection. Weeds and garden debris are not collected any other time.


Flowers and floral arrangements are exempt from the state yard waste ban. Compost them, take them to a drop off center, or bag them with other trash for the garbage cart.

Yard Waste How-To Videos

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