Composting all organic waste—including food scraps and yard trimmings—could eliminate nearly one-third of all materials sent to landfills and trash incinerators across the United States. That’s according to “Composting in America,” a new report released today by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research and Policy Center and Frontier Group. The report outlines best practices for composting programs, which are critical for mitigating the negative impact of waste on the climate and public health.
Each year, America landfills and incinerates enough organic material to fill a line of 18-wheelers stretching from New York to Los Angeles 10 times over, according to the report. All of that trashed material could instead be turned into valuable compost, which helps pull carbon out of the atmosphere, return nutrients to soil and replace toxic chemical fertilizers.
“One person’s trash is another person’s treasure—especially when that trash can be turned into compost,” said Faye Park, president of U.S. PIRG Education Fund, in a statement. “We constantly say to reduce, reuse and recycle. By reusing food waste and yard waste, we reduce our garbage and the negative impact it has on the earth and our health.”
Only 326 towns and cities out of more than 19,000 nationwide offer curbside food waste collection. As a result, most Americans have no option but to throw their food remnants into the trash. That said, the number of communities offering composting programs has increased by 65 percent in the past five years, the report points out.
"Composting programs can work in every community—from small towns to big cities," said Abigail Bradford, policy analyst at Frontier Group and co-author of the report, in a statement. "What communities may lack is know-how. This report shares experience and tips from communities that have taken simple steps to create successful composting programs."
To make composting programs successful, the report suggests cities and towns should:
- Make them convenient. Offer curbside organic waste pickup along with trash and recycling.
- Make them affordable. Make composting programs less expensive than trash disposal through programs such as Save Money and Reduce Trash (SMART), which charge residents and businesses less if they throw out less trash.
- Institute a commercial composting requirement. Require large commercial organic waste producers, such as grocery stores, to divert waste from landfills and incinerators to composting facilities.
- Support local markets. Local municipalities should buy back locally produced compost for use in public projects or distribute it to residents, community gardens or other local projects to create a steady market for composting facilities.
The report also covers the many benefits of composting. These programs help eliminate landfills and trash incinerators; replenish soil and prevent erosion; reduce the need for chemical fertilizers; and offer a powerful weapon in the fight against global warming.
“Imagine if our organic waste—food scraps, paper towels, yard trimmings—could help us instead of hurt us,” said Alex Truelove, zero waste director for U.S. PIRG Education Fund, in a statement. “With composting, we can make that a reality.”