If city planners in the nation’s capital have their way, every Washington, D.C., resident within the next five years will have curbside pickup for his or her food scraps. That move alone would mean taking more than three-quarters of city “trash” out of the waste stream and instead turning it into healthy dirt for farming, gardening, landscaping, and runoff prevention.
It’s time to rethink what we consider “garbage.”
The whole concept of garbage, or “waste,” is one that deserves a revisit. Finding innovative solutions to environmental problems requires a serious rethinking of the way society looks at excess. And more importantly, it requires a shift in purpose: from putting something in a landfill to finding a practical use for it that benefits the planet (and all the people on it). Leading that cause is composting, which takes up to 40 percent of what normally gets dumped in the garbage and turns it into viable, healthy soil.
In Washington, D.C., city planners hope to eventually supply government-issued compost bins to every household in the metropolis for organic waste. Those bins could be put out at the curb alongside traditional garbage and recycling bins for pick up, then transported by truck to a composting site in the city.
It will take time to do it right.
The vision for this program is expected to take five years to bear proverbial fruit. For one thing, the composting site has yet to be secured. That location will need to be between 10 and 20 acres—enough to hold everything from lawn roughage like twigs and leaves to food scraps from restaurants, businesses, and people’s homes.
It’s also not as easy as just dumping the organic waste and driving away. Nitrogen and carbon levels need to be appropriately balanced to make sure everything breaks down in a healthy (and non-stinky) way.
“We have a long way to go before we get there,” Christopher Shorter, director of the D.C. Department of Public Works, told the Washington Post. “Ultimately, we are going to be a more environmentally friendly city because many more of our residents will be separating their food waste and reducing landfill, which is the ultimate goal.”
Curbside pickup as outlined in the plan theoretically means D.C. would be composting around 148,000 tons of organic waste every single year. That number accounts for around 60 percent of all food and yard waste created.
The wheels are already in motion.
Officials started moving on the compost plan in 2014, when the D.C. Council passed the Sustainable Solid Waste Management Amendment Act. A compost feasibility study was finished in the first half of 2017.
On top of the environmental benefits of composting, studies show it costs more to put organic waste in a landfill than it does to compost it. That means D.C.’s program could pay for itself over time. The city has so far already earmarked $8 million for the project.