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Community Composting Keeps Growing!

September 18, 2018

Community composting takes place on a scale larger than home composting but smaller than commercial or industrial composting. Community sites vary in size, structure, scope, staff and financing. They are often established at community gardens, farms, schools, transfer stations, businesses, institutions and other locations. These sites can be managed by volunteers, community groups, social enterprises or local governments.

Community composting programs successfully manage food scraps and other organics within a community, allowing for local control. The programs present scalable food diversion options that are applicable to virtually any community, whether urban, suburban, or rural. Operations can serve as demonstration or training sites, and/or serve as effective solutions for initiating food scrap processing. An essential role that community composting performs is educating and involving residents in learning about food scrap diversion, the benefits of composting, and the uses of compost products.

I’ve written about community composting a few times on the NERC Blog. Food diversion efforts in New York City were described in a 2014 blog titled Community-Based Food Scrap Composting. GrowNYC Food Scrap Collection is a community-scale composting network that works to increase capacity and participation in composting in NYC.  Through its community composting network, New York City developed partnerships to provide for collection and processing of residential food scraps. The program also established pilot food scrap collections at multi-family residential units and schools. From 2011 through 2017, New Yorkers have dropped off ten million pounds of food scraps and yard waste at these community collection sites.

Community Composting in Action, also written in 2014, compared several different community composting systems. Roots Composting in Flagstaff, Arizona, is an example of “collection entrepreneurs” and a “worker-owned cooperative.” ECO City Farms is a nonprofit organization focusing on community food issues in Prince George’s County and the greater Chesapeake watershed. Its community composting model is an “urban farm”, with its core operation located at an urban farm in the town of Edmonston, Maryland.

In 2016, I wrote about young entrepreneurs branching into community composting. Melissa Tashjian is a part-time waitress and full-time compost entrepreneur. Ms. Tashjjian started Compost Crusader, LLC, with a small dump truck collecting food scraps and other organics in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In Boston, Massachusetts, co-founders Andy Brooks and Igor Kharitonenkov launched Bootstrap Compost in 2011. The company uses bicycle trailers, the T (Boston’s subway system), hand trucks, and other vehicles to collect and transport food scraps from houses, apartments, dorms, co-ops, condos, cafes, offices, and restaurants around Boston. They also offer collection at special events. Bootstrap partners with local farms to divert thousands of pounds of organic material from landfills every week. Both of the companies featured in the blog have expanded beyond their community composting roots, while still hewing to their principle goal of keeping organic resources local.

Down to Earth Garden Food Scrap Composting operation

NERC’s first project involving community composting began in 2016, through its Implementing the Food Recovery Hierarchy in Rural Vermont Communities. NERC had the opportunity to partner with the Composting Association of Vermont and Vermont Community Garden Network to help launch a Community Garden Food Scrap Composting project. We developed training resources (available for download) and a webinar; conducted a day-long training in community composting; and provided onsite technical assistance to launch the community garden compost sites. The Middle Ground, an article published in Resource Recycling magazine, describes the project.

NERC’s newest undertaking, scheduled to begin in October 2018, is Implementing Rural Community Composting in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. The project is funded through the US Department of Agriculture, Rural Utility Services, Solid Waste Management Grant Program.

Through this new project we intend to develop multimedia “Be a Community Compost Expert” training resources, instructing participants on how to establish and sustain community composting sites. The multimedia educational resources will include videos, written tip sheets, and webinars, and will comprise a Community Composting Training Course. Utilizing course materials, we will deliver local, regional and remote trainings. We will also provide technical assistance and support for the management of food scraps and organic waste through the establishment of at least seven sustainable community composting sites.

Community composting offers a range of opportunities for organics management. It provides a valuable soil amendment for community gardens, teaches valuable job training skills, and helps train residents, schools, and businesses in the value of turning food scraps and other organics into compost.

Elm St. Garden Community Food Scrap Composting site

Stay tuned for more exciting news on community composting!

By Athena Lee Bradley

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