Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mandatory composting

I recently learned that San Francisco has a mandatory compost recycling law for all households, commercial properties and food vendors. The law went into effect last October and stipulates that everyone in San Francisco must separate their refuse into recyclables, compostables, and trash and that all property owners are required to maintain and pay for adequate refuse service.

What kind of enforcement is there? Well, the basics of it are they will issue warnings at first if the property is non-compliant. The next step would be to refuse to empty a cart until the problem is resolved. The worst case would be that the city may consider liens, fines, and other fees. Fines can go up to $1,000, but may not exceed $100 for small generators. The city will not create liens without a hearing or issue fines without warnings.

Sounds pretty reasonable to me and not that much different than what we have going in Seattle (minus the mandatory and fines part). We've been doing the food waste composting for a few years now and last year they expanded the service to include meat, fish and dairy. So, between food waste recycling and regular recycling, very little gets thrown out at our house anymore.

In fact, I'm so used to food waste recycling (which I also have at work), it pains me to throw food out. When we were visiting family in San Diego over Christmas, where they don't have food waste recycling offered by the city, it pained me to throw food waste out in the garbage. Like physically made me uncomfortable. If I didn't already have too much crap in our luggage I would have taken it back with me if it were feasible. But, I'm not that crazy so we didn't.

I have the same problem when we go to cafes that don't offer composting bins, although we tend to stick with ones that do. At restaurants, I can't tell if food waste going back to the kitchen is getting composted or not. But, you'll be interested to hear that when we went out for breakfast on Saturday (which is a huge rarity) I packed containers and took my leftovers home with me. In fact, there was so much food served with my breakfast, I spent the rest of the day eating from it. No wonder we have a weight problem in this country. But, that's another story altogether.

Why are municipalities requiring or offering food waste recycling? Because it saves them money by diverting food from the waste stream, particularly since there is a viable, sellable product being produced out of it at the end. The other benefits are reducing waste going to the landfill which helps in conserving water energy and natural resources. As such, they work in partnerships with composting companies and get some financial benefit for doing so. For example, in Seattle yard waste collection and composting fees per ton cost one-half of waste disposal service fees.

So, with that in mind, do you think that all states should have a mandatory composting law? Assume that it is feasible for the cities to implement.

Should composting be mandatory nationwide?



Feel free to leave your thoughts on the matter in the comments.

37 comments:

Mommy C said...

Where does the city house their compost facility? Portland recently considered offering this service (did a trial of about 2000 homes), but the town that they were going to bring it to put up a fight because of the smell. I live in a suburb of Portland and would love to see it happen here. Unfortunately, I don't think anything will happen out here until Portland does it first.

Brad K. said...

I think composting should be an available alternative. But not mandatory.

I like the way Barry Goldwater put it. "You can't legislate morality."

In an extreme perspective, mandatory composting would starve those depending on restaurant scraps and dumpster diving to survive. Until everyone's needs are met, we should be careful about facile changes.

Laura said...

@ Brad K., the food will still be out there at the curb or in a garbage can or dumpster type container. If I were going the Freegan route it would just mean that all the food would be in one place in stead of mixed in with the baby diapers and vacuum bags and nastyness. Seems like a win to me. :)

aimee said...

I agree with Brad K, available but not mandatory. Composting is easy for us. We give our chickens many scraps and then the rest goes into our homemade compost bin in the backyard. I can see it being much harder for those people in apartments. I think the mandatory thing should be recycling. Since moving to our recycling happy town, we have almost no trash and the recycling bins are overflowing every week. Gotta love that.

owlfan said...

Composting sounds like a great idea (and I compost my own food wastes), but until we have better access to recycling where I live, I can't see it. We don't even have access to curbside recycling - I have to drive my recyclables 10 miles to the dump. And if I want to recycle any plastics other than #1 or #2, I have to drive even farther - nearest place I'm aware of is about 30 miles from me - so those plastics end up in my trash.

I think that home composting is better than community as you don't have to truck the materials around, so maybe more education of people and free or low-cost composting set-ups would work as well.

The Mom said...

I think it would be wonderful, but can imagine the people in my town making it into a big deal. A commercial composting company wanted to open a site here and it was refused. Everybody thought it would smell and didn't want the extra traffic. Maybe we could provide everyone with worm composters for their homes. Of course, then we'd just have a bunch of dead worms.

MN_homesteader said...

but this should be encouraged by the hood and community, not the cities. I am a firm believer that our governments are too big and need to fail soon, so we can recover and start living more locally in all manners

susanna eve said...

Here in Halifax, NS, Canada we also have a law that makes it illegal to put organics in the garbage. We have city wide green bin pickup every 2 weeks alternating with garbage and recycling is picked up every week but not many plastics can go in the recycling.
But there is a distinct lack of compliance and very little enforcement by the city.

To answer Brad K. we have lots of dumpster diving here as well as legislated compost laws. Companies pay to have their compost picked up by private companies but until pickup there are lots of free pickings. The bigger issue is companies locking their dumpsters not the legally required composting.

Prairiemom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Prairiemom said...

I don't think it would happen here, but it would be great if it did.
I have been forced to toss my food waste all winter because my 2 compost bins are frozen solid and have 2 feet of snow piled on top of them. I hate the thought of throwing all that away, but home composting in the mid west in the winter time is just not always practical.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I voted yes, assuming that it's feasable for cities to offer composting. If they're not available to do large-scale composting (I'm thinking small municipalities like where I live) then it would seem unfair to require home composting.

Adrienne said...

We don't even have regular recycling here through the city, no freakin' way would people go for composting. Plus since it's a college town and tons of people live in apartments, it's sort of unenforceable. I'd like it to be an option, though- there are several independent companies that will pickup your recycling if you don't want to have to haul it around yourself, I don't think there's a comparable co. for compost though b/c they'd have to have a place to put it. Hm.

The Larsons said...

Would love to see mandatory composting (and recycling) in Tacoma. It's so annoying to see all my neighbors stuffing their huge garbage cans full of recyclable, reusable and compostable items. How do I know? They are so full they can't even get the lids shut!!

Angela said...

There wasn't an option for what I felt on the poll. I don't think it should be mandated but I think an opportunity should be available. But I do not think we need additional laws for it.

EcoLife said...

We live just outside of Spokane WA on the opposite side of the state as Crunchy. I must say I am jealous of some of the enviro things Seattle is doing. This side of the state is sadly far behind. All of our recycling in this little town is voluntary and I am sure we are the only people in a several mile radius that actually composts our own food waste. *heavy sigh* Hopefully it will catch on.

Rosa said...

The problem with nationwide mandates is that cities that can't afford it (or think they can't) wont' offer it, and a lot of places don't even have municipal waste removal.

It's like the e-waste laws; charging for e-waste just made people dump it outdoors. Of course, compostables the got dumped would just compost...

Candace said...

I don't think composting should be mandatory, but I would definitely do it if I had the option.

Olivia said...

I have been composting forever. I am Canadian and have lived in different provinces where, thankfully, composting and recycling is a way of life.In the particular places I have lived, there are fines for placing recycling or compost in waste bins. Last year my daughter, son-in-law and myself travelled to Wisconsin for a wedding. We stayed in a Comfort Inn that offered breakfast but we were horrified to discover that ALL waste went into the garbage, be it compost, recycling or whatever. My daughter and son-in-law were especially upset as they have never known anything BUT recycling and composting. We made sure we only took as much food as we could eat. Fortunately we ate at my brother's the rest of the time so nothing was wasted, although the motel gave us all plastic water bottles which we took back to Canada with us and recycled because we weren't sure that the next guests would recycle them.

Greenpa said...

Well. Once again, I'm kind of leaping sideways here, but when I ran into this beauty, I immediately thought of you, Crunch (ok, and Beth of the Plastic Pisces.)

http://www.startribune.com/blogs/87229677.html

Now THERE would be a great "new product" to review, don'tcha think?

:-)

And, there is relevance of a sort to it- think of the drastic reduction in grass clippings in need of composting.

laserkatie said...

I live in Pierce County, WA, and while we don't have composting, they do offer FREE classes on how to set up your own worm compost bin; if you want to get the materials to set it up along with the class, it costs $30. I hope to take the class myself soon. I think that having municipalities offer classes on composting may be a great alternative (or interim step) if providing compost service is not feasible in a community.

laserkatie said...

And here is the link to the worm bin class in Pierce County :) http://www.co.pierce.wa.us/pc/services/home/environ/composting2.htm

shesaserging said...

I think it's a great idea. We are so close to Toronto, but on the wrong side of the border. Unfortunately, I think it would never fly here (upstate NY). My neighbors throw away about a dozen trash bags of grass clippings every week in the summer and it makes me so sad to see something like that go to the landfill. A composting/recycling/trash program is a win-win scenario but I think we will have to move to Canada if we want to partake in it. This region is really conservative, and would be up in arms about government mandated anything, even if it's a good idea.

Amy said...

I really wish our city offered a food compost recycling option. I've tried composting myself in a back-yard bin and have to say it just wasn't for me. I never could get the right balance to get it be anything other than a big stinky, bug-infested mess. So, it would really cut down on our landfill waste as well. As for making it mandatory, that feels a bit big brother to me, and as someone else pointed out, you can't mandate morality. I'd like to think that most people will choose to recycle as much as possible, especially if the city offers a pick-up option that makes it easy...

Ivy said...

I like the idea, but it's a bit of an adjustment--I work in San Francisco, and in an office setting, it's a tad more difficult. Right now we only have 1 compost trash can in the whole office, so that's not super convenient. :)

I wish they'd institute the same policy on this side of the bay. I live in Oakland and I'd love to compost, but there's no outdoor space and my landlord isn't interested in doing the optional compost bins. So...none for me right now. But hopefully if I move...

Anonymous said...

I live in the UK where I'm lucky that my district offers kerbside collection of plastics #1 and #2, paper, cardboard, tins and cans, foil and garden waste. They don't collect glass, but every supermarket has a collection point, plus a textiles bin. People still complain because it means fortnightly collections of landfill waste....
Recently some of the villages in the district (including mine) started to add kitchen waste to the garden waste. Eventually all areas will do it, we were just at the beginning of the scheme. And people won't do it. Apparently the fact it's in a compostable bag rather than a bin liner will mean it will smell in the kitchen and the fact it's in a brown wheelie bin instead of a green one means there will be rats...
I don't know how you could police or enforce any legislation. There are rumours in England of microchips on bins to monitor weight, but a bin full of plastic is lighter than one with a few stones, and worse environmentally, so it's not even very useful.
We also have 'waste tourism' where rubbish gets put in other peoples bins, which would increase. I think more emphasis should be put on encouraging commercial recycling/composting and making it 'normal'. Maybe you can obtain morality through education instead of legislation?!
Hazel

dc said...

We have optional curbside compost collection with our garbage service. There is an extra fee and the service is only available during the summer months. I've been composting since I was in college and cringe when I'm at someones house who doesn't compost, in fact I will often take their food waste home with me! Any of the stuff we don't compost-- mostly tree and shrub branches is taken to one of our local compost facilities. They charge about $5 for a pickup truck full.

A number of CSAs in town will accept food scraps and leaves for their compost. You can also list your leaves on Craig's List and they will usually disappear pretty quickly!

When I've visited relatives in Europe (Liechtenstein and Germany)I'm amazed by the huge steaming odorless piles of compost at the municipal composting facilities! If composting is done correctly there shouldn't be any unpleasant odors. As we run out of space for landfills I'm sure we'll see more composting by municipalities.

Sadie from allnaturalme.com said...

San Fran is so on with so many things - especially this one!

Woo hoo!

Tanya said...

I don't know if it is actually cost saving to municipalities - I believe in Toronto it costs twice as much per tonne to collect and process the organics as it does to landfill it.

I first separate all the food waste that can go in the backyard composter - no energy consumed to pick up or process - and only use the green bin for what I can't deal with locally - typically used facial tissue (can't quite get used to the idea of hankerchiefs), kitty litter, and rarely cooked food (usually it doesn't go to waste) We are also vegetarians + rare fish which helps reduce non-backyard-friendly food waste as well :)

I know several people that abandoned backyard composting when the green bin program came out - it would be good if the city would promote it more especially since their organics pickup program is running at capacity and they can't add on multi-residential buildings.

Allie said...

The option I would've selected were it available as an option is this: Yes, composting should be AVAILABLE, but should not be MANDATORY. I think people should participate in any recycling and composting programs offered by their municipality, but I'm opposed to legislating their participation.

Tanya said...

Allie - still there needs to be a disincentive to people throwing recyclables and compostables into landfill. Making recycling and composting free while charging for garbage based on volume would do this easily enough. Although perhaps it would contaminate the recycling if people try to sneak non-recyclables in the recycling to avoid paying for more garbage.

Allie said...

Tanya,

There are cities where recycling (and possibly composting, though I've not lived in a city that did composting) services are free whereas trash pick-up costs money. They simply do not pick up the recycling if there's real trash in there.

Regardless, however, whether people are given incentive or not, I'm simply not okay with legally mandating recycling/composting. Whether or not any of us think it SHOULD be done is irrelevant. There are definitely things we do/don't do that people think we SHOULD handle in accordance with their values. Should they be able to legislate those sorts of things too (and if you need examples, let me know)? Just because something is a good thing to do doesn't mean it should be legislated.

Tanya said...

Allie - I would disagree. I don't think its a "good" thing - I think its the ONLY thing we can do in order to have sustainability. What's wrong with creating a rule that people have to follow if they want their trash picked up? I suppose the downside is possible random dumping going on.

As for garbage in the recycling, here in Toronto we have bins - the garbage bins are different sizes (pay for size) and the recycling bins are free and mammoth carts with lids. There is no way the collector can check what is in them (other than possibly at the top), they pull them to the truck and the automated arm dumps them. My ex-next-door-neighbour never put any garbage out, and I don't think she had exactly figured out how not to generate any. A quick check of her recycling bin showed it contained everything.

Allie said...

Tanya,

Other cities have closed garbage cans and open recycling bins. In those situations, it's very clear what's in the recycling bin.

However, all that aside, it's a slippery slope to start legislating these sorts of things. What's next? No hormonal birth control or access to pain medication because it shows up in the water supply? "The road to Hell is paved w/ good intentions," and all that. People need to be very careful about what they start trying to get legislated, as it only sets a precedent for removing liberties you might actually care about having, rather than just removing liberties you think SHOULD be removed from people's lives.

Tanya said...

I think the reason they are closed is to stop cardboard from getting wet which reduces its recyclability.

Pain medication and hormonal birth control have huge benefits as well as unfortunate social side effects. Not sorting your waste stream does not have any benefits other than being lazy.

The city is offering people a service (pickup of their refuse) and as such has the right to regulate how that service will operate.

Allie said...

Let's be more specific. YOUR city offers those options. Many, many large cities do not (for example, the city I live in, Houston, only offers curbside recycling in very specific areas). Because I cannot afford to live in one of those special areas, I don't have easy access to recycling and as such, I don't recycle (though if there were a recycling center or even a drop off site within 5 miles of where I lived I'd choose to do so). Those large cities have enough revenue to offer the option to everyone, and still choose not to. What about rural areas, who can't necessarily afford to pay for such things? Are you willing to foot the tax bill so all people are able to have unilateral access to these services? My guess is that in theory, you are; but once you got the bill you might not be so okay with it.

Additionally, a city really only should be able to regulate how those services are operated if they don't charge the people extra money to make them jump through extra hoops. If people have to pay more money, they have the right to be part of the decision making process. For example, in one city I lived in, Austin, recycling was offered to all its citizens, free of charge. However, people had to pay for actual garbage service. By charging only for garbage, there is a definitive incentive for people to do more recycling and to produce less trash. Despite that, some people still choose to not recycle. If they want to spend the extra money on trash service, that's their right (their right to choose what to do with their dollars).

Just because you feel something occurs only out of laziness really doesn't make it fact. It makes it your opinion. Once again, because it's a cause you care about, you're okay with it being mandated. I doubt you'd agree if it was something you didn't want to see happen, such as the removal of access to hormonal birth control due to its environmental impact (and in this example, it's a non-trivial impact).

I stand by my opinion that we should not legislate to make people do the right thing. Give them incentives? Sure. Force them? Not okay. Once you decide it's acceptable to legislate such things, you run a very real risk of losing rights you currently have that you find very important to maintain.

Tanya said...

I'll be more specific about my comments. I feel that cities that *offer* recycling and organics pickup at the curb should mandate that people cannot put recyclables and compostables into their trash. Obviously its ridiculous to force car-less people to travel long distances to recycle materials.

Because compostables in trash has environmental side effects other than the volume of space consumed (trapping methane gas) I don't feel that people should be able to buy their way out of this sort.

But of course the services must be equally easy to access.

Allie said...

I get what you're saying. What I'm trying to articulate is that just because we know it's not good for the environment to put compostables in the trash doesn't mean we should eliminate people's right to choose. There are a lot of things that people do that aren't good for them or for the environment (medicines, make-up, cleaning products, the list could go on forever). We simply can't be legislating against all of them, or we start stripping people of other rights in the process.

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