In this column over the last 8 months (time sure flies whether you are having fun or not!) the “reduce, reuse and then recycle” themes have inspired the WasteNot articles. The related topics of food waste avoidance and composting include all three R’s when generated with eyes wide open. The stuff that ends up being composted is hopefully a last resort after efforts to stay on top of food waste have been prioritized. Food shopping, cooking and eating more efficiently reduce leftovers that don’t get eaten. (See last article.)
If you don’t have backyard chickens, pigs or a 16-year-old with a voracious appetite, there will be some extra food to contend with.
Even when we are fastidious and creative with leftover food, there will be times when we need disposal options that avoid the landfill.
And even when we eat every morsel, most of us don’t salivate to the idea of eating melon seeds and rinds, egg shells, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable butts, for example.
Some non-landfill options are: worm bins, compost bins, chickens or pigs. In our climate, an indoor worm bin works best. It’s too hot in summer and too cold in winter to keep the red wigglers happy. Outdoor compost bins work year round and, if it is rodent proof, processed food, dairy and meat can be included. Composting food scraps responsibly requires an enclosed container that is critter proof. Deterring all animals from accessing decaying food is critical. Rats, mice, skunks, raccoon, deer, coyotes, dogs and bears would be delighted to dine on your discards.
This practice can create public health and safety concerns for the animals and humans. If you’d like to tour different types of “urban appropriate” compost systems for yard debris and food scraps, check out the demonstration area at the Recycle Center on Water Street. There are systems appropriate just for yard and garden clippings that have an open design and then enclosed bins for food scraps.
Since we all can’t compost where we live, options for everyone would be great. The city of San Francisco has led the nation with a successful program requiring residents to subscribe to a three-cart service. This includes a black cart for trash, green cart for organics and blue cart for recycle. The S.F. organics cart allows post-consumer food. “Post consumer” refers to food that has been processed, cooked or includes any type of fat, cooked or raw meat, bones, produce and dairy products that may have been partially eaten (post consumer). A commercial composting facility is designed to handle these materials and the volume.
You may wonder how we could get lucky enough to get our food scraps picked up curbside in town. Luck has nothing to do with it. It has more to do with a commitment from our leaders. In San Francisco, the County Board of Supervisors, who are the equivalent of our city council and mayor, decided they wanted to become a "zero waste" striving city. In order for a commercial venture of this magnitude to be affordable, it requires that all citizens participate, similar to how utility and roads are paid for. In this way, the costs for the services are shared by everyone. In Ashland and Talent, trash and recycle is currently voluntary.
Low-hanging fruit options currently available are yard debris service for what grows in your yard. Commercial customers in Ashland and Talent can add a pre-consumer compost service (this includes uncooked, unprocessed produce and coffee grounds that have not been partially eaten) picked up from their business. This material is permitted to be composted along with yard debris.
If you live in Ashland or Talent, yard debris service is available by contacting Recology Ashland. This does not include food scraps.
Contact email@example.com for residential curbside pick up in Ashland and Talent with a local business. At this point it’s the only option.
If you wish to live in a town where food scrap composting with a curbside pick up becomes the "new normal," voice your preference to elected officials. It is highly unlikely that a city-wide compost program could be affordable without buy in from all of us. It’s the way San Francisco pulled it off and the option is there if "the people" lead the way and the leaders follow.
—Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a decade. You may reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org. Find past WasteNot columns online at bit.ly/rbwastenot.