A fair question to ask is why should I care about composting? Does it even really make a difference? The best way to answer that is through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Food Recovery Hierarchy. The schematic highlights the ways to divert potential food waste from the landfill, ranked from most preferred to least preferred. Composting is the last step to divert organic waste from joining the trash pile. Organic waste in landfills produces a significant amount more of the greenhouse gas methane than it does when it is properly composted. The EPA reports that in 2014, Americans recovered over 23 MILLION TONS of municipal solid waste through composting. Composted waste gets turned into a nutrient-rich input that can be used to build soil health.
The idea of a city wide composting program is not new. Large, urban cities such as Seattle and San Francisco have implemented mandatory composting initiatives that are run alongside their existing solid waste programs. Organic waste is sorted into its own bin and set out next to the trash and recycling bins once a week to be picked up by the city. The material is then taken to an industrial sized composting facility to be broken down into rich and healthy compost. This compost is used to fortify the soil to grow more produce.
In the San Francisco model, residents are charged an average fee of $15.00 per month that covers all three waste containers. The city reports that San Francisco’s zero waste program is funded solely from revenue generated through refuse rates charged to customers. The compost, once complete, is also available to be purchased to be used for residential gardens. It is difficult to compare the cost of the models used by cities because of the wide array of approaches to implementing these programs.
How do we adopt a program like this in Albuquerque? The city has made large strides in creating a more sustainable approach to waste management through its Integrated Waste Management Plan created in 2011. This plan outlines short and long term goals to divert waste from landfills, focusing mainly on recycling. The city was able to sign a 12 year agreement with Friedman Recycling to handle city wide recycling. Following this same model, a similar partnership with local companies like Soilutions, based in the South Valley, could make city wide composting a reality. Diane Wikler, the Marketing Manager and Public Information Officer for the Albuquerque Solid Waste Management Department, says that a curbside composting program may be considered down the road but is not currently in the goals for the upcoming Integrated Waste Management Plan. She says that currently, the city encourages residents to create their own compost at home if possible. Residents are also able to take their green waste to three convenience center locations, and two annual green waste collections are offered for yard waste in the fall and spring.
Many cities have successfully implemented pilot programs to test the feasibility of a larger program. Often this means voluntary participation in a controlled area. This will test different strategies for collection and participation, and will help determine a pricing structure. San Francisco started with pilot programs in a variety of neighborhoods to successfully test the program in diverse populations. The pilot was successful and also gave information on the most effective types of bins and alternative collection vehicles. Boulder performed an initial pilot of 400 households followed by an expanded pilot of 2,400 households, both of which showed how successful the program could be. Four years after the initial pilot the city was able to offer curbside compostable collections to the entire city. In Albuquerque, potential grant funding from organizations like the Keep Albuquerque Beautiful Initiative, part of the non-profit organization Keep America Beautiful and an affiliate of the Solid Waste Management Department, could help create a pilot program. This would be a big step towards diverting waste from the landfill and creating a more sustainable city.