For years, we’ve been telling municipalities that they can save money by convincing residents to compost at home. For a relatively small investment – some time, some education, maybe a subsidized bin – a municipality can collect one third less waste from a household as well as reap the benefits of extended landfill life. This is still true.
The North Shore Recycling Program (NSRP) in B.C. has stepped up in a big way to work with residents to increase the number who compost, as well as to increase the amount each household diverts by composting. We heard about their program at our conference last week. By applying the personal touch, they’ve managed to increase, not only the number of people composting, but also the amount of materials they compost. People in their program composted an average of 25 percent more stuff as a result, an impressive outcome.
Then their municipality introduced curbside pickup for food waste and the region’s back yard composting participation rate dropped by 20 percent. Also an impressive outcome, albeit in the opposite direction.
Not that surprising, when you think of it. People who were composting at home to help out, to do the right thing, to reduce waste, can achieve those ends with less effort by putting their food waste at the curb. And participation rates for curbside programs are typically higher than those for home composting, so, in the bigger picture, more organic materials are diverted from landfill this way.
Should municipalities abandon the promotion of back yard composting then? Well, it is still the case that residents who compost at home save the city the time and energy to collect and process a third of their household waste. There is a cost to picking up organics at the curb and another cost to transform these materials into new products. NSRP calculated that its residents who compost at home save the municipality $800,000 a year in avoided costs of collecting and processing yard and garden wastes (this was before the food waste program).
But who is going to compost when they could just put their organics at the curb? Someone that sees value in composting’s end product (also called compost, not that we want to be confusing or anything). Finished compost is useful. It improves the soil, adding organic matter, helping it retain moisture, lots of other good stuff. Who wants healthy soil? Gardeners. Composting should be an easy sell for gardeners. They can use all the compost that they produce and still be looking for more.
So, gardeners, stand by your bin! Municipalities, stand by your gardeners…