Ahead Of The Curb On Curbside Composting? (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Ahead Of The Curve On Curbside Composting?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and on this week's show we are Taking Chances. In this next story we're going to hear how something goes from a potentially chancy thing to a regular part of life. Think about curbside recycling. Okay, decades ago it confined to a few green enclaves, places like San Francisco, Calif. But these days it's common all across the U.S. And some environmentalists say that someday soon we could all be separating out our melon rinds and our orange peels for curbside pickup, the same way we separate bottles and cans. As Jacob Fenston tells us, two local jurisdictions are taking a chance on the idea that curbside composting could save the environment and save money.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

00:00:50
A heap of decomposing food in your backyard. Compost piles can be smell and vermin infested.

MR. JEREMY BROSOWSKI

00:00:57
We have a robust rat problem in our alley and the last thing I was going to do was put an active compost pile in our yard.

FENSTON

00:01:05
Jeremy Brosowsky lives in Mount Pleasant. He's into food, urban agriculture, sustainability, but composting at home seemed like a problem.

BROSOWSKI

00:01:14
So I was looking for a solution for my family and we couldn't come up with on, other than get it off-site.

FENSTON

00:01:18
Getting it off-site turned into a business. Soon he was hauling tons of other people's food scraps across the city. It's called Compost Cab. Customers pay Brosowsky $8 dollars a week to pick up their food scraps and deliver them to a local farm to be composted.

BROSOWSKI

00:01:34
The reason we do composting is that it's like a gateway drug for sustainability. And just as when you get into the habit of throwing away a glass jar in the recycling and you would never think to throw that in the garbage, the same becomes true of banana peels and apple cores. And it is very hard to stop.

FENSTON

00:01:53
There seems to be a pent-up demand for this compost pickup service. Over the past two-and-a-half years, Brosowsky has gone from having just a few dozen customers in the District, to hundreds all around the region. Copycat businesses have popped up locally and around the country. But the business's success could actually hint at its demise.

BROSOWSKI

00:02:12
Municipal composting is coming.

FENSTON

00:02:14
Brosowsky says eventually cities and counties will pick up food scraps just like recycling and trash, but that's okay with him. In fact, he's willing to help out those future competitors.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:02:23
I'm wondering if the pail has to be next to the trash bins, like will the town just make …

FENSTON

00:02:29
University Park, in Prince George's County, was one of the first local communities to try out curbside composting, with a pilot program launched in 2011.

MR. CHUCK WILSON

00:02:38
So it's a five gallon bucket with a sealable lid, so it means it's airtight so raccoons, nothing can get into it, smells don't get out of it.

FENSTON

00:02:49
Chuck Wilson, who coordinated the program, is talking to residents who've recently signed up. For the first year, the town partnered with Compost Cab, which picked up the food scraps for 50 families.

WILSON

00:03:00
The results have been amazing. On average, it's 8 pounds of food scraps per week per home. So over the course of a year, those 50 house kept, you know, several tons of food out of the local landfill.

FENSTON

00:03:13
Grant funding for the pilot ended. So this month the town government is taking over, expanding collection to 150 homes or about one in five residents.

MS. CATHERINE DONOHOE

00:03:22
So we keep ours right outside the backdoor with recycling and trash.

FENSTON

00:03:27
Catherine Donohoe was part of the pilot program. She says she'd always thought composting would be nice, but…

DONOHOE

00:03:33
We're a busy family, both of us are working, we've got kids, we're running around getting people to schools and daycares each day. This is about what I can handle and feel like I'm contributing.

FENSTON

00:03:46
Composting is good for the environment because when food scraps end up in a landfill, they release methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times worse than carbon dioxide in terms of its effect on climate change. Composting could also potentially save money, if jurisdictions end up paying less to landfills.

MR. MICKEY BEALL

00:04:02
Currently the county tipping fee for the landfill is $59 a ton. We estimate that--well, let me think about that.

FENSTON

00:04:09
Mickey Beall is director of public works for University Park. He says the cost savings initially will be nominal, about $2,000.

BEALL

00:04:17
Which equates to about 30 to 35 tons over the course of a year that would be diverted from the landfill.

FENSTON

00:04:24
Beall says the biggest challenge to starting curbside pickup was finding somewhere to take the food scraps.

MS. GEMMA EVANS

00:04:29
So here we go.

FENSTON

00:04:30
One way to deal with that problem is to build your own composting facility.

EVANS

00:04:34
Composting facility in progress. So…

FENSTON

00:04:36
Gemma Evans is the Howard County recycling coordinator. She's driving me around the county dump, over hills of filled-up landfill, to what looks like a runway at a small airport.

EVANS

00:04:47
Yeah, let's go have a look.

FENSTON

00:04:48
In 2011 the county started offering compost collection to 5000 households. Currently, all that waste, about five tons a week, gets shipped to a commercial composter in Delaware. Evans says when this new facility opens up later this spring, the county could see big savings, possibly allowing the program to expand.

EVANS

00:05:06
I'm hoping that we'll be able to expand countywide, but that's not my decision to make. That's above my head.

FENSTON

00:05:13
Lately, there's a lot of local interest in composting, but the East Coast is still behind the curve. San Francisco started picking up curbside compost more than 15 years ago, followed by Seattle, Portland, Boulder, Co., Austin, Texas and dozens of smaller towns. Evans says it's the future, but it also looks a little like the past.

EVANS

00:05:34
You know, a hundred years ago, people weren't throwing out as much stuff as they do now and not wasting as much food and other stuff that is wasted now. So, you know, hopefully we'll come back around.

FENSTON

00:05:42
I'm Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

00:05:45
What do you think about this idea of curbside composting? Share your thoughts with us by sending an email to metro@wamu.org.
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