The Dirt on Maryland Composting Initiatives

County Programs Hope to Divert Food Waste from Landfills 

Graphic: Compost impacts more than you think

Illustration: Institute for Local Self Reliance

According to the USDA, 30-40% of the food in our country goes uneaten every year. That’s equivalent to $165 billion dollars that Americans throw in the trash can. Food production is a resource-intensive venture, and pitching such a large amount of food squanders the energy, land, and water used to produce it in the first place.

Tackling food waste from every angle is important, and a plan to mitigate, redistribute, and properly recycle food requires innovative solutions. While the best option is to be mindful of our food purchases and use every bit, some amount of food waste is inevitable. Before throwing those food scraps in the trash, consider composting.

Composting shrinks the 6.3 million cubic yards of landfill occupied by rotting food, which cannot biodegrade safely on its own. As a result, this landfill waste releases large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Consider this: if food waste was represented as its own country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

Diverting food away from landfills is also essential to creating a more equitable food system and supporting a healthy environment. Composting can:

  • nurture soils to boost agricultural yields
  • reduce the need for chemical fertilizers
  • filter pollutants
  • increase soil capacity to hold more water and sequester carbon

Maryland has several noteworthy programs underway to make composting more convenient:

  • Frederick County
    Key City Compost in Frederick, Md. began collecting residential food scraps this past February. A doorstep pickup once or twice a week for a nominal fee sends food waste from residential downtown Frederick and Jefferson to nearby Fair Farms partner Fox Haven Organic Farm and Learning Center, where it is composted in a worm-bin system.
  • Howard County
    Howard County has a pioneering pilot program that encourages residents in trial zones to “Feed the Green Bin” and offers free collection service and a 12, 35, or 65 gallon bin residents can use to roll their meal remnants out to the curb. From there, the scraps are biodegraded at Alpha Ridge landfill and later sold as compost.
  • Prince George’s County
    Maryland Environmental Service and Prince George’s County have teamed up to experiment with adding food scraps to existing yard waste compost systems. Although the pilot program lacks a curbside collection service, demand for one has already created a waitlist of 30 communities and institutions (including an airport!). The yard waste facility has received and processed over 2,000 tons of food scraps since its inception in 2013, and plans to double its capacity in the coming year to accommodate a long list of new collection sites.

Fortunately, the benefits of recycling our food waste are increasingly recognized, and composting will hopefully become the norm as food waste bans become more common throughout the United States. These laws bar some generators of food waste (like commercial institutions) from sending food scraps to landfills. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island have already implemented food waste bans, and have demonstrated that the benefits extend beyond minimized waste. For example, the Massachusetts food waste ban generated $175 million in economic activity with $50.5 million in capital investments planned for 2017, and the Vermont Food Bank reported a 40 percent increase in healthy food donations in 2016.

By supporting more programs to increase composting and building on the experiences of these exemplary states, Maryland can be at the forefront of cutting food waste in America.

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