Over 100 American cities now offer curbside pickup for composting. According to the EPA, 60 million tons of compostable materials are sent to landfills each year. This waste can just as easily be composted and ultimately municipal composting saves taxpayers money.
According to the Sustainable Cities Institute, tipping fees at composting facilities are generally cheaper than tipping fees at landfills. The EPA found the cost of municipal composting to range from $11 to $102 per ton, and the avoided landfill disposal fees ranged between $5 and $137 per ton. In residential programs that already have a weekly yard trimmings pickup, adding food waste collection can increase landfill diversion without adding significantly to costs. Enviro Girl lives in an area where yard waste is composted and they’ve begun to compost sludge from the waste water treatment facility, too. In her area the infrastructure to compost is already in place on a small-scale, so she imagines it wouldn’t take much to expand it.
According to the same source, additional start-up costs may be incurred with public education campaigns and providing basic equipment (worm bins, kitchen scrap pails, etc) to residents. These costs can be recouped through ongoing savings in disposal fees. Compost prices have been as high as $26 per ton for landscape mulch to more than $100 per ton for high-grade compost, when bagged and sold at the retail level. In fact, it’s the resale price that inspired local officials to begin composting waste water sludge in Enviro Girl’s county.
Curbside composting seems like a no-brainer to Enviro Girl as municipalities are more cash-strapped than ever before, so she wondered why more cities don’t have programs. She read in Mother Jones that there is some lobbying by Waste Management to keep the status quo. In her research Enviro Girl also learned of an entrepreneurial program called “Let Us Compost” that offers pick up services to urban dwellers in Athens, Georgia. They offer their version of curbside composting to businesses and residential addresses for a $15 monthly fee. According to the Let Us Compost website, they even do event composting. Genius!
While composting continues to be the exception instead of the rule where Enviro Girl lives, she hopes that continued community education and outreach–and the success of programs in 100 cities–will change the tide of our collective waste stream. Much better to recycle our food and yard waste as healthy soil than to pack it into the back of garbage trucks and stuff it into landfills, right? Meanwhile, Enviro Girl will independently manage her own waste with a compost bin in her front vegetable garden.
Tell the Eco Women: does your city offer curbside recycling? How’s it working out for you?