To Reduce Waste, Boston City Council Considers Compost

Originally reported for The Daily Free Press on April 2, 2013

Acknowledging the importance of composting excess food scraps in addition to separating trash from recyclables, Boston officials presented a proposal to City Council Wednesday that would institute a curbside compost pick-up program wherein scraps of food would be sold to local farmers to use as fertilizer and to landscape city parks.

City Councilor Matt O’Malley, of Jamaica Plain, and Councilor At-Large Felix Arroyo are spearheading the campaign and said they expect the program to be widely supported when introduced in a public hearing and reviewed by the city.

“[The proposal] was almost unanimously supported,” O’Malley said. “The vast majority of my colleagues signed on as co-sponsors, so we decided to call for a hearing order and we’ll be bringing all of the pertinent state-holders into the room to talk about what options are out there and how the city can play a role in developing composting capabilities in Boston.”

At the hearings in the coming months, city officials will discuss the plausibility of running a compost pick-up service using the materials and resources they already have, Arroyo said in a press release Monday .

“It wasn’t that long ago that single-stream recycling was a new idea and now it is a successful program in our city,” he said. “By introducing composting, we can reduce the amount of trash that ends up in our landfills and we can sell or use the compost collected as fertilizer.

In October 2011, the city of Portland, Ore. launched a curbside collection service for compostable items that shifted garbage collection to every other week, according to a report by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability from Dec. 5.

The program yielded a 38-percent decrease in the amount of residential garbage collected curbside just a year after it was put in place, according to the report.

O’Malley said after seeing the success of single-stream recycling in Portland, composting seemed like the next reasonable step in helping the environment.

“We just started doing the single-stream recycling five or six years ago and it’s just taken off like wildfire,” he said. “We see so many more people recycling, aware of what it takes, familiar about how you go about recycling, and it’s really just been a great success in Boston.”

Like recycling, a composting program could help create revenue for the city, O’Malley said.

He said the economic benefits of composting would become apparent once the program is put in place.

“It’s one of those great confluences, in that it’s a great thing to do and it’s right for the environment, and also can generate revenue after a while,” he said. “There may be some small administrative costs at first as we begin this process, but over the long-term as we encourage people to do it, it will generate a revenue.”

Andy Brooks, president and founder of Bootstrap Compost, greater Boston’s only current year-round compost pickup service, located in Jamaica Plain, said executing a citywide composting program is possible, although it may take significant effort.

“I definitely think it’s feasible, I just think it’s going to be a process of trial and error,” he said. “It’s going to be a mixture of entities working together to get it right, and it’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s definitely going to happen.”

Even if the petition fails to pass the legislature, the future of composting will benefit from the discussion of a citywide composting program in Boston, Brooks said.

“Just by the virtue of people having this discussion is doing a lot for the sake of composting,” he said. “It sheds light on the issue of compost and the importance of diverting food from landfills, and is attempting to fix a broken waste-stream system and also improve the local food community.”

While O’Malley and Arroyo said they hope to get their program started as soon as possible, they will not push their proposal to be passed before the election of a new mayor.

“I’m less concerned about rushing it for any certain deadline than I am about taking our time and making sure we do it right,” O’Malley said. “We want to maximize the best possible program we can offer to the citizens of Boston.

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