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Types of Organic Materials

What are organic materials?

Organic materials originate from plants and animals. While diverse in nature, they all contain organic matter (carbon based compounds). It is the organic matter and nutrients that lead to the useful products (compost, biogas, digestate, etc.) derived from these materials.

Some of the common organic materials that can be recycled include:

Yard Trimmings

Yard trimmings are vegetative residuals resulting from the care and maintenance of lawns and gardens. These materials include leaves, grass clippings, garden debris, holiday trees, and pruning from trees and shrubs.

Soil or sod and tree debris such as large branches and stumps are often not considered yard trimmings because they are typically reused or recycled separately from other organic materials.

The amount of yard trimmings that will be generated from a given area can be very difficult to estimate since the definition of yard trimmings being used, population density, climate, tree density and age, and other factors affect the quantity.

New York State generates an average of about 94 lbs/capita/year. This does not include the tree debris and soil noted above, and can vary greatly among rural suburban and urban areas.

Food Scraps

Food scraps includes raw or cooked food materials that are not used for human consumption, including food loss before, during or after meal preparation in the household as well as food discarded from retail sales and food services.

Sources of food scrap generation:

  • lack of knowledge of how to use food efficiently (use of leftovers, etc.)
  • planning issues when shopping
  • confusion over food labeling and how long foods are edible
  • portion sizing - making excess food at meals
  • suboptimal storage - storing in poorly sealed containers or at temperatures that are too high
  • preferences - discarding edible portions (potato skins, pizza crusts, etc.), lack of desire to consume leftovers
  • socio-economic factors - single person households and young people generate more food scraps
  • supply chain inefficiencies
  • poor stock management
  • marketing strategies - buy one get one free, etc.
  • marketing standards - disposing of dented packages, etc.
  • temperature sensitivity
Food Service
  • portion size larger than consumed
  • poor logistics - anticipating number of clients, etc.
  • attitudes - taking home leftovers home is not universally accepted, presenting a bounty of food is part of the food service culture.

Food scrap generation estimates by sector (commercial, industrial, institutional, residential, and service establishments) can be found at California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle (leaving DEC's Website)).

Food Scrap Generation from Households
In New York State, the current estimate is 0.91 pounds per person per day.

Food Scrap Generation Estimates from Commercial Establishments and Institutions
A number of studies have tried to estimate the amount of food scraps generated from various commercial categories. A summary of some of the results found are listed below:

California Study (leaving DEC's Website)

Fast Food - 1.1 tons/employee/year
Food & Beverage Stores - 1.5 tons/employee/year
Full Service Restaurants 1.5 tons/employee/year

Massachusetts Food Generation Study (leaving DEC's Website)
Hospitals - 115 tons/year
Nursing Homes - 54 tons/year
Colleges/Universities - 242 tons/year
Corrections - 104 tons/year
Resort/Conference Facilities - 61 tons/year
Supermarkets (> 10 employees) - 222 tons/year
Convenience Stores - 43 tons/year
Restaurants (> 10 employees) - 51 tons/year

Food Soiled Papers

Most types of paper (newsprint, cardboard, office paper, paperboard, magazines, etc.) are readily recycled into other paper products. However, when paper contains food residues or is coated with wax, it is no longer easily recycled into paper products. This paper can however be recycled through composting with other organic materials.

In New York State it is estimated that 125 pounds per person per year of compostable paper are generated.

Food Processing Waste

Food processing or food manufacturing is the preparation of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meats for human consumption. New York State has more than 54,000 employees working in food manufacturing. For fruit, vegetable, and dairy alone, there are 1,940 food manufacturers with employees in the State, including 1,182 bakeries, 113 dairy processors, and 121 sugar and confectionery companies. These manufacturers can generate a variety of organic wastes such as skins, rinds, pulps, whey, off-spec products, process washwater, and wastewater residuals. These materials are amenable to animal feed in some cases, composting, land application, and anaerobic digestion.

Animal Manure

Animal manure includes both the manure and the bedding associated with the manure. The following estimates of manure generation were developed by the USDA.

Manure Generation

Dairy - 80.0 lbs/day/1000 lbs animal unit
Hogs and Pigs - 63.1 lbs/day/1000 lbs animal unit
Chickens - 60.5 lbs/day/1000 lbs animal unit
Turkeys - 43.6 lbs/day/1000 lbs animal unit

Given an average weight of 1400 lbs for a dairy cow, 250 lbs for a pig, 5 pounds for a chicken, and 17 pounds for a turkey, the USDA estimates equate to the following generation amounts:

Dairy - 40,880 lbs/year/animal
Hogs and Pigs - 5,758 lbs/year/animal
Chickens - 110 lbs/year/animal
Turkeys - 271 lbs/year/animal

In New York State there are an estimated 600,000 dairy cows. This equates to 12,264,000 tons of manure per year. This is much greater than the amount of biosolids (see definition below) generated in New York State, and estimated at 2,000,000 tons per year.

Animal Mortalities

An unfortunate but real component of managing animals on a farm is animal mortality. For a dairy farm, a mortality rate of 5 percent is not unusual. For New York State, this equates to 30,000 dairy cow mortalities each year. In addition, there are mortalities from other farm animals, pets, and from wildlife. Animals struck on roadways must be managed appropriately. Road-killed animals, primarily deer, total more than 40,000 each year in New York State. In addition to routine mortalities, a serious disease outbreak can lead to significant quantities of euthanized animals.

Cornell University has performed research on mortality composting and readily provides guidance and assistance on mortality composting (leaving DEC's Website). There are many composting facilities in the State for farm mortalities and road-killed animals. The New York State Department of Transportation operates numerous compost facilities for managing road-killed animals.


Biosolids are the solids resulting from wastewater treatment. Due to the organic matter and nutrient content of biosolids, they can potentially be recycled through composting, land application, and other means. Visit NYSDEC's Biosolids Management webpage to learn more.

FOG (Fats, Oils, and Grease)

FOG is generated from all types of commercial food preparation including frying foods, cooking meats, and managing creams, sauces, and dairy products. Most municipalities require commercial food preparers (restaurants, etc.) to install and maintain FOG interceptors that inhibit FOG from entering the sewer system. FOG can be recycled through rendering, anaerobic digestion, and biodiesel production. FOG generation varies greatly, with estimates of 800 to 17,000 pounds per year per restaurant. This material has a high energy content and is sought out by managers of some anaerobic digesters to boost biogas output.