BY MORGAN FECTO
Hair, fireplace ashes, lint from all natural fiber clothing, junk mail, and interior cardboard from Pringles cans, were just a few items approved by Jessica Weiss in an email to the 65 volunteers for Takoma Park’s composting pilot program.
Weiss suggested these odd tidbits for composting, along with the usual non-meat, food scraps and paper products, but not because there is any lack of waste from the enthused participants.
“Takoma Park is as green as green can be, so it’s a little like preaching to the choir,” said Weiss, the executive director of GrowingSOUL, the middleman between the bins and a farm in northern Montgomery County where the compost is made.
“We just need to find the space,” said Weiss, who also said that the challenge to creating a permanent program in Takoma Park will be to find a compost facility.
As the compost firm for one of Takoma Park’s two pilot programs, GrowingSOUL collects bins weekly in its “vida-vita-veggemobile,” a truck that runs primarily on vegetable oil.
GrowingSOUL also reminds participants to put out their bins, and collects weight data for the waste, said Weiss.
“We are just trying to gather information about what weight of trash can be kept out of the waste train,” said Director of Public Works Daryl Braithwaite.
GrowingSOUL collects an average of 10 pounds of waste per bin per week, and between 58 and 62 participants put out their bins weekly, said Weiss. However, the fledgling program’s success does not mean that it will be easy to implement.
“Right now the options are pretty limited,” said Braithwaite. “We’re just hoping that more facilities open up.”
Weiss said that compost facilities are difficult to secure because facilities established solely for composting are often too far away.
“Your carbon footprint that you’re saving is negated by trucking it there,” said Weiss.
Although local farms are also options for composting centers, there is often a lack of awareness, know-how, and adequate composting materials, said Weiss.
“‘A rind is a terrible thing to waste,’ is one of our catchphrases,” said Weiss. “We know that the biggest step is to educate.”
If the city permanently adopts the program then other questions would need answering too: Could food waste be collected with yard trimmings? How, if at all, would the city redistribute the compost to the community? How would Takoma Park fund its new program?
At this experimental stage it is at least clear that participants love composting with the program.
“It’s been great, it’s pretty painless,” said participant Milford Sprecher, who was previously a “backyard composter.”
Sprecher said he likes the convenience of the program, and that the provided bin is small and well-sealed.
“I wish everybody did it,” said Lisa Sommers, another participant. “It’s been terrific, very easy, and educational. They even have biodegradable bags to line the bins.”
Both Sprecher and Sommers said that they have not had any problems with the program, and that they put out their bins weekly.
“The only down side is that I don’t get the compost to enrich my garden,” said Sommers.
Turning food waste into compost is more energy-efficient than incinerating it along with other garbage, said Weiss, and could benefit the Takoma Park community by shrinking its carbon footprint.
“If it came from the ground, or it came from an animal, it needs to either go back to animal or back to the ground,” said Weiss.
In Montgomery County, nearly 20 percent of waste is food scraps, and recycling these food scraps instead of burning them would enable the county to meet its recycling goal for 2020, said Weiss.
“‘That’s food, that’s dirty, that’s gross,’” said Weiss, imitating someone who does not understand that compost is a recycling process.
“Instead of looking at compost as a solid waste, we want to look at it as recycling your vital nutrients,” Weiss said.
Braithwaite said that the pilot programs will end around early August so they can start reviewing the weight data collected by GrowingSOUL. Then they will discuss the options, and if Takoma Park can make composting a permanent, city-wide practice, said Braithwaite.