Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Urban/Community Composting

In San Francisco, green containers are for composting, blue for recycling, and black for trash.  SF Environment agency image.

San Francisco and Seattle have required separation of food waste in the "trash collection" stream for many years.

A few years ago, when SF put more requirements on multiunit buildings and commercial facilities, participation rose significantly, for example, leading to more than 70% of apartment and condominium buildings participating ("San Francisco Credits New Law with Increase in Composting," CBS).

More recently, SF's efforts at reducing trash waste have plateaued with an increase in the amount of "trash" going to landfills, because many people throw away as trash items that could be recycled or composted ("San Francisco Stalls In Its Attempt To Go Trash-Free," 538).

I have this book, which I first saw at the Green Festival, but I haven't read it yet.

We have a ways to go before we become more "European" and build a wide variety of waste reduction behaviors and practices as unthinking routines ("Too Much Water Doesn't Damp Germans' Thrifty Habits," Wall Street Journal).

Seattle has just passed new rules, with ticketing and fines to increase participation in composting. ("Q&A pokes deeper into Seattle’s new composting rules, fines," Seattle Times).  Although the fines are minimal, too low to make giving tickets worthwhile--in order to encourage more residents to compost.

These programs, because they use different processes, can include meats and fats, which typical backyard composting doesn't include to ward off smalls and small animals.

We compost.  As an aside, we have composted on our property since 2009 and in combination with recycling, this has drastically reduced the amount of "trash" we typically generate--about one 13-gallon bag of trash every 10 days.  I suppose we generate roughly 8-16 pounds (one gallon = 8 pounds) of food waste each week (coffee grounds, cue tips, nail clippings, hair, vegetable and fruit peelings, paper towels, pizza boxes, etc.).

Although I am not "religious" about turning the compost--you can make it in a few weeks if you are diligent--so it takes us awhile to convert food and yard waste into usable "dirt" but it happens and it's a pretty cool and exciting process, aided by worms and other insects minus some bird feeding.

But since we lost a big tree which generated half our supply of leaves necessary to stoke the process over the course of the next year--I've taken to "liberating" leaves raked and bagged by neighbors.

In the process, I've discovered that because they see the leaves as "trash" they aren't averse to also throwing in trash like shingles, broken asphalt, and litter into the bags with the leaves. (Depending on how compressed the bags of leaves get, they can convert into "leaf mold" pretty fast, which is a useful form of mulch.  "Throwing leaves away" is a big waste of environmental opportunity.)

Local training opportunity.  In the DC-Maryland area, the Institute of Local Self-Reliance in conjunction with the DC Department of Parks and Recreation, is launching a "community composting training program," a six-week course with classroom and field sessions in November and December. As part of the program, participants will plan and execute a "community composting" project.

From email:

Apply to the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilder Advanced Composter training program today!
  • Learn about the compost process, from building piles to using the finished product 
  • Gain experience in building and managing compost systems 
  • Develop leadership skills and promote community composting
Participants will be certified as an Advanced Neighborhood Soil Rebuilder upon completion of course requirements. Requirements include 30 hours of community service launching a community-scale composting project of your choosing. Once completed, there will also be an option to continue on to the Master Neighborhood Soil Rebuilder train-the-trainer apprenticeship.

Community composting.  Rather than create standardized collection programs in cities like San Francisco, other communities support more ground up projects.

The State of Maryland imposes percentage requirements for waste diversion on all of the local jurisdictions.

Therefore, Montgomery County, Maryland strongly encourages composting, providing resources and bins to residents, and has a separate yard waste collection program where the materials are directed to regional composting facilities--the LeafGro compost available for sale in the region is produced by that system (the state supported the creation of regional composting infrastructure and facilities).  This program is a good example that government can be innovative.

Cities like Montreal have various community composting programs that operate in local parks, and in Manhattan, for many years the Lower East Side Ecology Center has set up collection sites at various farmers markets, so apartment dwellers can drop off food waste--diverting it from the waste stream--which the LESEC then composts.  They do this for free, while in the DC area, for profit businesses have been set up to do something similar.  (I won't pay $10/week to compost.)

Community composting resource.  The ILSR has a report on community composting programs.

-- Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting, describes successful initiatives, their benefits, tips for replication, key start-up steps, and the need for private, public, and nonprofit sector support. Produced in collaboration with the Highfields Center for Composting in Hardwick, Vermont, the report profiles 31 model programs.

Other necessary policy changes to support wide-scale urban composting/waste reduction

1.  I've recommended that DC develop more nuanced waste collection policies for the outer city especially, by creating a yard waste diversion program.  See "A way for DC to begin adding yard waste collection as a separate element of waste collection and reduction programming,"

2.  Plus, DC DPR could set up community composting operations at certain parks.

3.  There need to be requirements imposed on food product manufacturers so that more containers are recyclable or compostable, with labeling requirements on the containers so that people know how to "properly" dispose of containers.

4.  Unrecyclable-uncompostable containers and packing materials should be banned--such as styrofoam--in favor of compostable or recyclable materials.

5.  Requirements that restaurants, supermarkets and other commercial establishments "that dispose of at least one ton of organic material per week to donate or repurpose theusable food to create energy from food waste" went into effect in Massachusetts this month ("Massachusetts Leads Again, This Time Bans Food Waste," Sustainable Business).

Focus in this area coudl make a big difference in food waste diversion, especially if requirements vary according to the type and size of the establishment (e.g., less than "one ton per week" for restaurants).


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