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2020 EPA Food Recovery Challenge

In 2020, the City of Philadelphia Department of Prisons (PDP) diverted over 555,685 pounds of wasted food to compost operations developed by O2Compost, saving the City approximately $19,000 in landfill fees. The composted material was donated to community gardens and church groups, as well as returned to grounds for use in PDP’s orchard and greenhouses. Before composting at the PDP, the department sent food waste to local landfills or industrial garbage disposals.

In 2011, Laura Cassidy with PDP contacted us to inquire about a pilot project to compost food waste that she wanted to divert from a 700-bed women’s prison facility.  Laura is the Director of Sustainability with the City and she had applied for and received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the project.  Given Laura’s estimate for the volume of food waste being generated, Peter developed a mix recipe (food waste plus bulking agent) and designed a 3-bay aerated compost system. The staff at PDP broke ground on the project in 2012 and they were operational within 2 months.

With training assistance provided by O2Compost, the start-up of PDP’s composting operation was very successful and, as a result, the operation of the facility soon included labor provided by minimum security prison inmates.

Following several years of successful operation, the PDP provided an additional $60,000 to expand the aerated compost system by adding four larger compost bays (Phase 2) to process food waste generated by two of the City’s other prison facilities. This was later followed by a $300,000 grant to construct four considerably larger compost bays (Phase 3) to process food waste from all five of the city’s prison facilities (approximately 4,500 inmates).

Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia


PDP - Food Waste Compost Facility

PDP also partnered with Food Connect, a nonprofit organization and partner of Philabundance. Food Connect uses smart technology to pool resources and make deliveries efficient. They distribute organically grown food from the PDP Orchard Program to local food pantries. PDP is currently working with EPA to develop internal policies and procedures for distributing food produced at PDP.

PDP’s mission of self-sustainability is to integrate the food produced at the PDP and supplement the current food with healthy offerings for staff and inmates. This mission will be a challenge logistically, but PDP is committed to achieving it. PDP has donated over 6,424 pounds of food to local food banks in fiscal year 2019. Food banks that PDP served include the following: Old Pine Community Center, Bread for Life Community Services (Transfiguration Baptist Church), Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, Everything Must Change in the Heart of the Community, Muhammad’s Mosque, Why Not Prosper, and Feast of Justice.

With the advent of the Covid-19 Pandemic and resulting PDP staff shortages, Laura out-sourced the operation of the PDP Compost Operation to Mr. Tim Bennett, owner of Bennett Compost.  With this expansion to Tim’s business, he hired John, one of the former inmates who had been trained to operate the PDP facility.  In the four years since John’s employment, he has become one of Tim’s best, most knowledgeable, and reliable employees. To learn more about Bennett Compost, visit this LINK.

"This program enables participants to give back to the community, while obtaining new skills for potential job opportunities upon release." - Laura Cassidy, Director of Sustainable Operations, City of Philadelphia Department of Prisons

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