By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — City officials are moving ahead with a plan that encourages Philadelphia restaurants to turn their food waste into compost, rather than just throwing it into a garbage disposal.

Restaurants in the city are now required to put virtually all of their grindable food waste into garbage disposals, and they face fined if they’re caught simply putting the waste into a dumpster.

But now, the Streets and Services Committee of City Council has approved a measure that gives restaurants a new option: using a separate dumpster just for food waste that would be turned into compost.

“This would allow food establishments to get a dumpster for recycling and composting of food waste,” explains Phil Bresee, recycling director for the Streets Department.  “Most typically those dumpsters are aerated dumpsters, meaning they’re self-contained and they don’t allow odors to escape.”

Bresee said some of the food waste dumpsters also have capacity gauges, so that the restaurant would potentially have to empty it less often.

“Those dumpsters can be serviced on a less frequent basis because of that,” he tells KYW Newsradio, “so we believe that this would allow them to make changes to their solid waste contracts, because they don’t have to get a dumpster pulled (emptied) every day.”

Under the bill, sponsored by Councilman Denny O’Brien, the fee for the medallion needed to install the food waste dumpster would be lower than that for a regular dumpster.  Bresee said that is another incentive for the restaurants to move in this direction.

“The ultimate goal of this is to create a mechanism that will further incentivize composting and recycling of organics by food businesses,” he says.

Bresee estimates that the city as a whole –- businesses, institutions and households –- generates about 300,000 tons of organic waste each year, about half of which is food waste.

The bill was approved unanimously in committee and now goes to the full Council for a vote.