Ideas for Urban Composting

Food waste. From the perspective of composting, food waste is an unnecessary evil. Most, if not all, of the organic material that we send to our landfills could be transformed into compost—in the process, as TerraCycle knows all too well, we'd be saving the money and gas used to transport the waste to landfills; we'd be cutting back on the greenhouse gas (methane) released when food waste decays; and we'd be getting usable fertilizer in the process. So figuring out how to convince local groups, businesses, and governments—not to mention the feds—to begin composting is an essential endeavor. That was the assignment, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, that our instructors gave our class of Master Composters.

The presentations on this topic were illuminating, to say the least. The "greenmarkets" group discussed the hyper-innovative, ecomaginative Zero Waste initiative at the farmers' market in Boulder, Colorado. As you can guess by the title of the program, the greenmarket has been transformed into a waste-free zone. What that means, exactly? Well, for one, you won't find any garbage cans there, only receptacles for compostables.

Aided by the organization Eco-Cycle, the market's vendors were able to realize a cradle-to-cradle business (and materials) model. Prepared-food vendors now sell food in compostable containers, and all the food packaging at the market is similarly ‘postable. If you do bring in any trash, you're asked to pack it out with you. Most definitely worthy of being emulated, and a great boon to the composting cause.

The most effective model highlighted by the "community gardens" team seems to be when gardens partner with restaurants and stores to ‘post food scraps. In Brooklyn, the urban farm/sustainable-communities organization Added Value composts food scraps from the Park Slope Food Coop as well as restaurants like Rice and Habana Outpost. These arrangements benefit everyone involved; the businesses save money on waste-carting costs, and the garden gets a most amazing soil amendment. One catch, of course, is that gardens are only able to handle a limited amount of food castoffs.

Yours truly was in the "marketing" group, and we came up with a number of enticements to promote composting among restaurants, groceries, and greenmarkets. Since everyone likes saving money while doing good, we thought a coupon program would work nicely to help foster the economy of ‘postability. The coupons would be valid at any business that composts its food scraps. At a composting restaurant, for instance, eco-minded gourmands could use the coupons, delighting their palates while helping to support an eco-responsible eatery.

We had another idea of creating a kind of "composting exchange" website, where users could link up with others to achieve their composting goals. So if a grocery-store manager wants to compost food waste—but doesn't have the capability for it at the store itself—she/he could surf through the exchange to find a local community garden that is looking for material to 'post. Voila! A match made for the compost heap.

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