SWRC Blog: Back Yard Composting in a Curbside World

SWRC Blog: Back Yard Composting in a Curbside World

For many years, we’ve been promoting back yard composting. Composting at home is nearly the only way for residents to manage their own waste on site. They can use their organic discards to create a product that benefits their lawns and gardens. Residents who backyard compost save their municipalities from having to pick up 30-50 percent of their household waste. It’s a good deal all round.

But, it has its limitations. Certain food items, like meat, bones and dairy, are not the best in home compost. They can attract pests and cause not-so-lovely smells. Not everyone can be motivated to start composting. Some see it as too much work, others might refuse because of the ‘yuck’ factor, and then there are the people without yards that have to be more creative to manage composting. Generally, 25 to 40 percent of households are the most that can be convinced to compost.

Saskatchewan communities are starting or looking into collecting compostables at the curb. They issue a bin to each household, collect materials weekly or bi-weekly, and take them to a central compost facility. So, what happens to home composters in this more convenient scenario? In other communities, the number of residents composting has dropped 10 to 20 percent. Composting is a certain amount of work and there’s no question that tossing stuff into a bin is easier.

In a curbside world, especially one where residents are issued a bin for organics collection and are charged for it, dedicated backyard composters are often the grumpy ones. They complain about having to pay for a program that they’re not using. They demand exemption from the fee since they’re actually saving the municipality money by managing their own organic materials.

While it is true that curbside programs take less effort than home composting, and it is also true that those who backyard compost are saving municipal resources to some extent, the two approaches are not identical.

Curbside programs often accept a wider range of materials than those that are best for home composting. In addition to the proteins mentioned above, curbside programs typically accept soiled packaging like pizza boxes, paper takeout containers and paper towel/tissues. They can also provide an outlet for homeowners with weeds or invasive plants that they don’t want in their home compost.

On the flipside, if curbside programs are so convenient, why would someone continue to compost at home? Good question. Generally speaking, the people who continue to process organics at home are those who are interested in the finished product -- gardeners. Composting produces humus, a useful soil amendment. It adds nutrients, increases the soil’s water-holding capacity and has other benefits.

From a food security, and maybe even mental health, perspective, encouraging residents to garden, and compost at home, is a good thing. From a waste diversion perspective, curbside organics programs that produce humus from your hard-to-compost-at-home materials, are also a good thing. They can coexist and complement one another. Let’s aim for that.