Why On-Site Composting
94% of the US food waste is not recycled, making it one of the single largest drivers of greenhouse gas emissions per the EPA. Most is either hauled to a landfill emitting methane, which is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Or, it's hauled to an incinerator and burned, emitting deadly air pollution, which causes more deaths than car crashes and murders combined. Black and Hispanic populations experience 60% more of this pollution than they create because of where such facilities are located. If food waste were a country it would be the third largest generator of greenhouse gas emissions, driving our climate crisis. Because hauling accounts for ~80% of what we spend in the US on food waste disposal, we’re literally burning billions of dollars in fossil fuel and worsening our environmental problems. The UN predicts that if we don’t change our behavior patterns, in 55 years all the soil on the planet could be gone, which is needed to support human life on earth. The current approach to dealing with food waste focuses on centralized systems, which involves building and hauling to large industrial waste processing facilities. Because of the barriers to this approach, which include the cost of large plots of land and environmental compliance and restrictions from zoning, permitting, and neighbor resistance, the US is stuck at recycling 6% of our food waste. When successful, the centralized approach contributes to structural inequitiies because facilities are disproportionately placed in underrepresented communities often of color, rural, or less affluent.
Stop hauling food waste.
1. Place composting machines where dumpsters and trash cans once stood at food waste generators like restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, schools, universities, churches, office buildings, government facilities, multi-unit buildings, & local governments. Distributed on-site composting overcomes the barriers of the haul away approach, providing a path to increase capacity from the 6% we’re stuck at to 100%, live our values, and meet zero waste goals. It also avoids the ick factor currently caused by storing food for pick-up.
2. Use the finished compost locally, or bring it to farms on food delivery vehicles that once returned empty. This regenerates our soils for next season’s crops, closes the ecological loop, mitigates, and reverses climate change.
3. Eliminating the hauling of food waste more than covers the costs of composting machines and local jobs. Instead of hauling and harming, this model provides local skilled jobs for hiring and healing. This takes steps in addressing structural inequities the pandemic lays bare.
As a vision for the scalability, putting one composting machine at one food waste generator on two of every three of DC’s 5,000 city blocks would provide 100% of the capacity needed for all of DC and at a cost of $167M. The market for disposing of food waste in the US is $11B annually, and the DC share would be $66M, which means the payback period on the initial capital cost would be 2.5 years. Increasing the payback period to 5 years means the market could simultaneously support one staff for every 18 blocks at a salary and operating cost of $165,000 per person, for a total of 200 local skilled jobs for direct operations alone. Again, this is funded by existing expenditures by the industry being redirected, and it avoids hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to construct and operate several large industrial waste processing facilities for food waste.