Urban composting redux
I have a constant internal battle about being critical versus being positive about various governmental acts because if I am 5-10 years ahead of the curve on various issues, should I be critical 5 to 10 years after I write something that it finally percolates up to something that the city deals with?
Composting efforts gain traction across the United States," about the rise of composting at three levels, by residents individually and through for profit operations like Compost Cab, by businesses such as Safeway Supermarkets, and by the local government, which has allocated $600,000 (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) to test composting at four urban gardens in DC.
Because the indexing function of Blogger isn't that great, I can't find very easily the earliest instance that I mentioned the importance of composting as a waste management and reduction tool as well the environmental benefits. I remember coming up with an idea (a bit harebrained) on how to set up block by block collection bins a couple years before that. But frankly, the idea wasn't that much different from what Montreal started doing in 2010.
Montreal's composting program using community garden and park locations cost $600,000 to try to figure out.
I do know that I mentioned the plan by the City of Austin, Texas to achieve zero waste by 2040, in a blog entry in 2007. I've written about the efforts of the Lower East Side Ecology Center in Manhattan, about how Seattle has done composting since 1989, but only added food waste to the collection system in 2005, and I am pretty sure I've written about Toronto's early failures in composting all types of food waste (they didn't have the right system in place to break down meats and fats), run photos on Montreal's urban gardening compost program, in the context of needing a comprehensive waste reduction plan for the city, etc.
I am not sure how long my household has been composting (since we have a large back yard it's easy for us to do). Probably since the fall of 2008, using a design made from wood pallets, that we got from the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection composting website.
Left: our main compost setup along with bags of leaves in reserve, captured from our lot (and from the neighbors--we lost a tree last year, so we produce fewer leaves). You cover your inside compost with leaves/grass clippings to build the right environment for breakdown into soil.
I am not a fanatic about turning it. If you are a fanatic, you can generate usable "soil" within a few weeks. For us, it takes 12 to 18 months--e.g., stuff we put into a supplementary Montgomery County provided plastic bin (you can get them at the Ag Fair) in 2011 we let sit all of 2012 and I tested it about a month ago and it is now super-prime compost, full of worms (a great sign), etc.
It is incredible what a difference composting makes in terms of trash reduction. Typically we produce about 5 gallons of "trash" each week (which we throw out every couple weeks or so), and a full blue bin's worth of recycling (lots of newspapers and magazines), plus whatever we throw into the compost bin (including leaves and sometimes grass clippings that I filch from neighbors to get the right mix).
Right: We also have a large loose compost pile for brush and branches. I still haven't figured out the best option for a chipper/shredder--we don't want to get one that requires gasoline, but the electric ones apparently have some issues too.
There are two of us and the compost pot we have in the kitchen has one gallon capacity. Including coffee grounds/water (and yes, some spoiled food), we produce between 1-2 gallons of inside compost (plus leaves etc. from the outside) per week. I don't think I'd want to pay $8/week for someone to "haul it away."
I would aver that studying the composting programs of other jurisdictions including Montreal, Toronto, Seattle, Austin, Portland, and Montgomery County Maryland would be an excellent use of some of that $600,000 and far more useful.
As the Post article stated:
Portland, Ore., by contrast, opted in October 2011 to change its garbage collection program so haulers now take away green waste — including food scraps — once a week, but pick up other trash only once every two weeks. In a single year, the city cut its residential trash load by 40 percent.
A 40% reduction in the residential waste stream is incredible.
On the other hand DC isn't incentivized to reduce the waste stream all that much because as I have pointed out before, currently DC makes a lot of money "selling" its trash ("D.C.'s trash is now Fairfax facility's treasured commodity," Post) to Fairfax County, where it is used as feedstock for a waste-to-energy plant--because with the recession, Fairfax County isn't generating enough trash on its own to feed it. (All the more reason, along with failures of such plants in places like Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to not consider creating such a plant in DC, even though the city has allocated money for such a study also.)