MS. REBECCA SHEIR
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
A heap of decomposing food in your backyard. Compost piles can be smell and vermin infested.
MR. JEREMY BROSOWSKI
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.
Jeremy Brosowsky lives in Mount Pleasant. He's into food, urban agriculture, sustainability, but composting at home seemed like a problem.
So I was looking for a solution for my family and we couldn't come up with on, other than get it off-site.
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.
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.
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.
Municipal composting is coming.
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
I'm wondering if the pail has to be next to the trash bins, like will the town just make …
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
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.
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.
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.
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
So we keep ours right outside the backdoor with recycling and trash.
Catherine Donohoe was part of the pilot program. She says she'd always thought composting would be nice, but…
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.
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
Currently the county tipping fee for the landfill is $59 a ton. We estimate that--well, let me think about that.
Mickey Beall is director of public works for University Park. He says the cost savings initially will be nominal, about $2,000.
Which equates to about 30 to 35 tons over the course of a year that would be diverted from the landfill.
Beall says the biggest challenge to starting curbside pickup was finding somewhere to take the food scraps.
MS. GEMMA EVANS
So here we go.
One way to deal with that problem is to build your own composting facility.
Composting facility in progress. So…
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.
Yeah, let's go have a look.
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.
I'm hoping that we'll be able to expand countywide, but that's not my decision to make. That's above my head.
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.
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.
I'm Jacob Fenston.
What do you think about this idea of curbside composting? Share your thoughts with us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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