Coming off a week at the US Composting Council Conference in Orlando and a board meeting for the Biodegradable Products Institute, I’m now even more convinced of the important role composting MUST play in our future. And I mean everywhere, not just in green communities like Boulder, San Fran and Seattle. Composting will be everywhere in the next 10-15 years, so if you don’t yet compost in your backyard or through a curbside collection program, you will in the future. Composting is where recycling was 20 years ago and it’s going to grow at 2X the rate that recycling did.
According to the EPA, as much as 30% of the methane gas released from landfills come from discarded food. Composting is an immediate solution to that, not to mention the issue of our shrinking landfill space. We’re spoiled here in Boulder in that we have a curbside collection program that picks up our organics waste every other week. My family nearly fills our 32 gallon cart with organics to be “recycled.” We have a 3-gallon kitchen compost bin that we fill with orange rinds, banana peels, paper towels, and food scraps and then we empty it into the 32 gallon cart. It’s simple. Every time I travel and I don’t have composting available, such as last week, it pains me to throw food scraps in the garbage. Boulder does it right. A bunch of other communities now do it right as well.
As of December 2011, there were over 150 communities across 16 different states that had organics collection programs (i.e. curbside compost programs). That number grew by over 50% from the previous 2 years. BioCycle published an informative article a year ago on the status of curbside composting programs with details by state and they are publishing an updated one this spring. It will be interesting to see the growth over the past year. Of note, Vermont recently passed a bill that will make it illegal by 2020 to throw food waste into a landfill. They are building their composting infrastructure to achieve that goal and I hope other states follow suit.
Major grocery chains are jumping on board as well. In fact, they are driving the composting infrastructure build-out on a national scale Walmart has an 80% waste diversion rate and composting is a big part of that. They’ve built a national composting infrastructure to take the food waste from their stores. Other supermarkets are following suit. Weis Markets in Pennsylvania spurred the opening of 5 new composting facilities in PA over the past 18 months. Impressive influence. Apparently Target is also looking to include composting as part of their recent waste hauling bid process for all of their stores.
It makes sense for grocery stores to compost. As much as 45% of food in developed countries gets wasted. I was shocked when I heard that statistic. But it’s true. Think about the food that is wasted on plates and then think about how much food is wasted from spoilage at grocery stores or during transit. It’s staggering. And with food weighing as much as it does, dumping it in the trash causes grocery stores to pay more for their trash hauling than they should (they are charged by the pound usually). So composting helps save them money since composting is cheaper than landfilling. Walmart has saved $231 million through their waste diversion efforts. Not bad.
Colleges, universities, corporate campuses, stadiums, hospitals, restaurants, and other institutions are also joining the movement. They are all pushing to reduce their waste bills and also reduce their impact on the environment. The infrastructure is coming along nicely, so curbside programs in cities will be close to follow. Get ready.
For more information, Steve Mojo, the Executive Director of the Biodegradable Products Institute wrote a great article on composting. The article talks about the role of compostable products and how they help aid in the composting movement. It’s a great read so check it out. Steve is an instrumental force in leading change in this ever-important public issue. Stay tuned.