Category Archives: Community-Based Composting

Taking Compost to the Curb

On the popular website Earth911.com, freelance author Sarah Schmidt reports on the growing number of municipal compost programs that include food scraps and wet paper — the other 25% of municipal trash that could be diverted from landfills and recovered yet is not.

Curbside recycling programs have become so common, that most of us take them for granted. Simply toss your soda cans, beer bottles and newspapers in the right bins and your city or county will make sure they get recycled.

But will the day ever come when we can compost our food scraps just as easily? In some U.S. cities, that day is already here, and there is a growing movement afoot to make curbside composting as easy and common as recycling has become. That’s good news, considering that the average American throws away about 100 pounds of food scraps a year—and that adds up more than 7 percent of the waste stream.

Here are some highlights:

  • San Francisco residents can put almost all of their food waste—even meat and dairy—in bins for pick-up, thanks to an innovative residential composting program that began in 1998 (restaurants there have been composting even longer—since 1997). The scraps are put in biodegradable bags, which are now widely available. The resulting compost is sold to California’s famous vineyards to grow grapes and the revenue helps offset the cost.
  • Inspired by San Francisco, other US cities are catching on: In 2005, Seattle began curbside composting as part of its Zero-Waste Strategy. Boulder, Colo., Austin, Texas and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. have recently begun doing so, too.
  • Facing a decline in available landfill space, Rapid City, S.D., instituted an ambitious co-composting program in which organic material is sorted from the general solid waste stream and combined with biosolids (human waste) collected from the water treatment plant. The combined sludge is then processed and converted into agricultural compost.
  • Other states are also looking into ways to foster more composting. In Minnesota, for example, where many small local programs have been initiated by towns and even school districts, the legislature is considering ways to implement even more says Ginny Black, of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Read more about it here.

Composting: The 24 Percent Solution

Leaves in Andrew Skwor's compost heap north of Baraboo were hot to the touch Friday afternoon. They once sat in the yards of Village of West Baraboo residents and will soon break down into an environmentally friendly material that his brother can use for his landscaping business.

If you’re looking for a positive story about community composting, check out Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Tim Damos, from the Sauk County News Republic recently published an interesting profile of local composter Andrew Skwor. Skwor runs a large-scale mixed organics composting facility in Baraboo.

For about ten years, Skwor has experimented with composting, a method for breaking down organics into a nutrient rich material that helps plants flourish.

As an engineering student at UW-Platteville, Skwor studied the viability of turning wastewater sludge into a form of compost. Since then, he’s worked with scientists at Cornell University to develop software that helps compost producers find the right blend of materials for the product they need

The article does an excellent job of pointing out how food scraps and yard trimmings make up 24 percent of the waste that municipalities handle, and how a local composting operation that handles source separated organics (including yard trimmings, food scraps and wet, non-recyclable papers, can recycle these source-separated organics into an organic potting soil which can be sold for $15 per cubic yard.

Think COOL2012 (Let’s Stop Filling Landfills with Recyclable Organics)

In a recent post on sustainablog.org, Robin Shreeves commented on her town’s municipal composting program.

This past spring, my family and I were able to get all the compost we needed for our vegetable garden from a local community’s compost pile at their department of public works. The compost was created from all of the leaves and yard clippings that had been collected curbside. Many communities collect leaves, clippings and other outside organic matter to turn into compost, but some communities are taking it a step further.

Food that is mixed in with regular trash is estimated to make up about 40% of the trash in landfills. It also is the biggest offender in creating landfill methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas – 72 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Reducing landfill methane is just one of the benefits of keeping this type of waste out of landfills.

Curbside composting’s many benefits include:

  • saving money by reducing trash to landfill service and thereby lowering garbage bills;
  • conserving valuable organic resources by returning organic matter and nutrients to the soil;
  • reducing climate warming gases from landfills and reducing the risk of potential groundwater pollution
  • extending the life of our landfill by saving space

We think these are excellent and astute observations, especially since it demonstrates the fundamental need for keeping organic materials OUT of landfills!

When advocating “green” in your local town, think about the 40% of recyclable (compostable) trash. Not only can you help prevent global warming (by reducing the potential of methane production in landfills), but you can help your town reduce solid waste disposal fees by diverting a significant percentage of the total waste stream from the landfill. For more information about the benefits of diverting compostable materials from landfills, visit COOL2012 website.

To paraphrase Margaret Mead once remarked, a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change a short-sighted municipal solid waste plan!

The Right Way to Go Green

Santa Barbara City College featured a report about a terrific program from that city’s Center for Sustainability. To reduce waste, the Center has partnered with the city of Santa Barbara’s environmental services to implement a post-consumer compost program.

Potato starch utensils, sugar cane to-go containers, and yellow compost bins are used throughout the Zero Waste and Awareness Program being implemented by the Center for Sustainability.

“Waste is a human concept,” said NikiAnne Feinberg, full-time coordinator of the Center for Sustainability. “It doesn’t exist in nature. I think of it as something that we haven’t found a second use for yet.”

She said the program tries to minimize the waste that goes to the landfill. It provides greater opportunities for participation and education on campus.

Nearly all the disposable stuff provided by the cafeteria can be composted, with the exception of plastic condiment cups and coffee cup lids. Marc Sullivan, director of food services, said that they are looking at compostable alternatives.