Funding Composting Infrastructure will Improve Healthy Soils: An Interview with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Sophia Jones

According to a 2021 report by the Environmental Integrity Project, Maryland landfills release far more greenhouse gas emissions than previously thought. They account for 37% of the state’s methane emissions. A large portion of this methane comes from the decomposition of food waste, which makes up 17% of the waste dumped in Maryland landfills. Eliminating food waste from landfills would go a long way towards decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting climate action. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a leader in the effort to achieve this goal. Fair Farms spoke with ILSR Policy Fellow Sophia Jones about why this advocacy is so important.

One alternative to sending food waste to landfills is to compost it. This not only eliminates waste in a healthy way, but also creates a valuable product: an organic soil amendment that is rich in nutrients and helpful microorganisms. The problem? We don’t have the infrastructure or the funding for it. In 2022, ILSR advocated for HB1070, which would establish a $5 per-ton surcharge on waste landfilled or incinerated. This surcharge would then be deposited into the Environmental Stewardship Fund, a pool of grant money available for waste diversion projects.  

In the proposed bill, half of the Environmental Stewardship Fund would go to on-farm composting projects. On-farm composting helps our farmers improve soil health and farm profitability. The other half of the Environmental Stewardship Fund would be split in two categories: county grants (available to local governments) and competitive grants (available to businesses, schools, nonprofits, and more). 

A number of other states have successfully implemented this kind of surcharge program. Jones said that surcharges for this kind of fund in other states range from $0.50 per-ton to $13 per-ton, so the proposed $5 charge is within the norm. The bill failed to advance this year. Jones reported that the main pushback she heard was about the surcharge itself. Jones remains very hopeful about the bill’s prospects in 2023.

Imagine what composting infrastructure in your county, neighborhood, or state could look like. What if there were a communal composting facility at your favorite local restaurant, or your library, or your kid’s school? This kind of future is possible, but advocates like Sophia Jones need help. Constituents need to tell their representatives that they want this kind of future. So stay updated about proposed legislation, follow the work of ILSR, sign up for the Fair Farms newsletter, and get ready to push for waste diversion funding in 2023. 

Graph created by ILSR as part of a blog post and fact sheet. See the full version here