Composting and Your City

Many years ago, I composted and grew a garden with tomatoes, beans, and other vegetables. However, we moved from that house, had more kids, and had a disposal. So for no particular reason, I stopped until recently when I was re-introduced to it through the City of Newton composting program. The city makes it easy with options to buy a compost bin for your backyard, or use Black Earth Compost curb side pick-up service. As I reflected on the best way to get restarted I had quite a few questions: (1) Why don’t more people compost? (2) What cities have the best practices for composting?

First of all, why is composting better than putting the food in the garbage? Organic waste in landfills generates, methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By composting wasted food and other organics, methane emissions are significantly reduced. Municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 14.1 percent of these emissions in 2017. Backyard composting also reduced the transportation costs and related carbon emissions related to transporting to the dump or processing center.

With the responsibility for trash removal, as well as tools such as taxes and fees, cities are in the best position to drive increased composting. Americans landfilled or incinerated over 50 million tons of compostable waste in 2015. That is enough to fill a line of fully-loaded 18-wheelers, stretching from New York City to Los Angeles ten times. There has been fantastic progress in recycling and composting over the past 20 years, although a tremendous amount still needs to be done. I learned that San Francisco, Denver, and many other cities are leading the way. NY City has struggled to make progress in city-wide composting programs. The program is voluntary and requires extensive education to impact participation. This is contrasted against Boulder where as of 2018, compost rates 21 percent, One replicable action that Boulder implemented was the universal zero waste ordinance (UZWO).

To really have a material impact, composting must be more widely adopted, which means cities are key to this success. However, as an individual, it is quite easy to start. Especially, if you have (even a small) backyard. It doesn’t have to cost anything, and immediately reduces the waste going to a landfill. In my case, I simply used an old plastic garbage can, turned it upside down, and added some ventilation holes. I thought the biggest challenge would be for my whole family to remember to compost versus use the disposal. The was an unfounded concern. I should have done it years ago.

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