Local Jurisdictions Experiment With Curbside Composting Programs

As the General Assemby considers legislation that would move Maryland to a “zero waste” policy, a March 11 Washington Post article discusses the benefits and challenges of one technology that would undoubtedly play an important role in achieving such a policy – composting.  A poll connected to the article indicates that more than 150 communities from 18 states offer curbside collection of residential food waste, a 50 percent increase since 2009.  The article discusses composting pilot projects in the State:

In this area, University Park collects food waste from 150 houses and trucks it to a U.S. Department of Agriculture composting station in Beltsville. Howard County has signed up more than 1,000 families around Ellicott City and Elkridge and is planning to build its own composting facility.

Takoma Park officials have been hearing for years from citizens eager to separate their bread crusts and apple cores for sanitation workers. Last month, the city announced a $10,000 trial program in two neighborhoods. Officials hope to expand the collection citywide in coming years.

The article notes several challenges in establishing a large-scale composting program:  (1) the lack of facilities able to handle the food and other organic waste; and (2) the need for outreach efforts to educate citizens about composting.  Food and other compostable waste constitutes a significant portion of the solid waste stream.

Americans dump 33 million tons of food waste into landfills and incinerators every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, accounting for nearly a quarter of the national waste stream.

Festering piles of garbage cost city governments millions of dollars in tipping fees, fill up dumps and belch methane, a greenhouse gas that the EPA warns can cause 20 times the atmospheric warming as a similar amount of carbon dioxide.But when those same banana peels and celery tops are allowed to decompose in the presence of oxygen (which is why compost piles have to be churned), they produce a loamy super soil, filled with nutrients and able to retain moisture.

The compost can be bagged and sold to gardeners, used to reduce runoff pollution in sensitive watersheds or stuffed into long tubes for flood control (because compost can hold 20 times its weight in water, compost bags are more effective than sandbags).