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.