By Whitney Pipkin 2017-09-01 23:12:43
HOW THE DISTRICT IS CURBING FOOD WASTE (and what you can do) When Josh Singer first started turning food scraps into compost inside the Beltway, he ran into the usual suspects: rats, smells and angry neighbors. Since then, "I've spent the last decade trying to figure out the best ways to do it," says Singer, a community garden specialist with the District's Department of Parks and Recreation who saw the potential for compost to turn food waste into a resource for urban farms and gardens. Singer eventually found the right method: a bin system developed by Urban Farm Plans from Brooklyn, NY, that's so impenetrable to pests it's earned the nickname "Fort Knox." And, more importantly, he found that truly successful urban composting takes a village. The community compost cooperative network–which now works with 1,500 trained volunteers to keep the compost piles turning at nearly 50 sites in the city– is one of several ways the District and its residents are reducing the amount of food waste headed to local landfills. And it's an example of the outside-the-box thinking that could have other cities looking here for inspiration. As San Francisco, Seattle and, now, New York City, undertake costly programs to redirect food from landfills with curbside compost collection, the District is taking a multi-pronged approach. While District officials are working to give residents that third pickup bin as early as 2023, a series of projects are now under way to help citizens reconsider what's waste and reuse it closer to home. This spring, the city began working with Compost Cab to offer food waste drop-off locations at eight weekend farmers markets, one in each ward. Residents can bring their bins of food scraps to the market each week–filled with eggshells and coffee grounds, corncobs and cut flowers–and, in the process, keep that refuse out of the landfill without having to compost themselves at home. Compost Cab works with more than two dozen farms and gardens in and around the District to turn that food waste into valuable soil amendments. "It's been an introduction to composting for a lot of people in the District, which is awesome," says James Ley of Compost Cab, who's helping manage the drop-off program that he estimates already is removing nearly one ton of compostable materials each week across all eight wards. "We're teaching people–just like we did 40 years ago with recycling–to separate out their waste streams." Even before the free city program, Compost Cab has been offering food waste pickup for residents in and around DC for almost seven years, as have a handful of other private companies like Veteran Compost. Compost Cab's pickup customers pay an average of $32 a month to have their five-gallon compost buckets go to the greater good, with the option to get back some of the soil it's produced twice a year. If those customers who are willing to pay for compost pickup are the early adopters, Ley and city officials hope the farmers market crowds will become the next wave of compost converts. At the drop-off sites, compost experts are available to answer questions and provide pointers on storing food waste during the week (collect scraps in a bag and keep it in the freezer or put newspapers in the bottom of a plastic bin to absorb odors). "People often think compost is gross," says Ley. "We're really good at proving them wrong and dispelling some of those myths." Annie White, manager of the District's Department of Public Works' Office of Waste Diversion, says the popularity of the drop-off program so far shows that "there was some latent demand" for compost in the city. But there's a lot further to go. The District recently completed a feasibility study on compost collection that showed residents are generating nearly 235,000 tons of food and yard waste per year, with another 114,000 tons coming from the commercial sector. The study estimated that more than half of that, about 150,000 tons, could be redirected to a third compost bin for pickup, but the city will need to build–and has already begun to budget for–an additional facility that can receive it. The curbside pickup program would still be just "one piece of the puzzle," says White. "The community composting and food waste drop-off is important, because the more local you are, the lower the cost is and the better it is for the environment. And then these programs are laying the groundwork so that the curbside program can be successful." Almost 40 DC public schools already collect trash and food waste in separate bins in their cafeterias, and that number is expected to grow to 60 this coming school year, White says. The food waste from those schools goes to the Western Branch Composting Facility in Prince George's County, MD. In the future, food waste from the schools and the city's collection program could end up at DC Water's Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, if the economics pencil out. There, it would be added to the anaerobic digesters that already are breaking down another form of waste–what residents flush down the toilet–to produce methane, generate power and leave a compost-like product that could be sold, spread or given to ratepayers. KEEP IT OUT For now, one of the most effective ways to reduce the food waste that ends up in landfills is to make sure what's edible gets eaten. Programs like Food Rescue, an app-based initiative that launched in DC in the fall of 2016, already are redirecting food that might be wasted in one part of the city to people who need it in another with the help of volunteer transportation. The program has saved nearly 38,000 pounds of food from the ending up in landfills or compost piles since October 2016, says DC site director Kate Urbank. Earlier this year, DC Councilwoman Mary Cheh introduced the Save the Good Food Act to create tax credits for restaurants and other businesses that want to donate still-good food while reducing barriers to donations, such as too-strict policies about the sell-by labels on products. The Food Recovery Network, which typically works to reduce food waste on college campuses, is launching a certification program to let customers know which restaurants donate food as an additional incentive. DC–based celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn says bills at both the local and federal level could go a long way to make it easier for restaurants like his to donate unused food, even as they already aim to put every ounce of produce and protein to work on their menus. Part of Mendelsohn's job, as both a chef and chair of DC's Food Policy Council, is to keep consumers thinking about food waste and their role in it. To that end, he's collaborating on a "scraps gala" in the fall that will build its menu entirely out of otherwise unwanted food. And he's applying a critical eye to food waste in his home kitchen as well. He recently turned back-of-the-fridge produce into a weeknight ramen soup, posting an Instagram tutorial for his followers. "People always ask, 'What's one way you can make a difference on your own?'" Mendelsohn says. "I'm, like, 'Before you go back to the grocery store, why not look in your fridge and your cabinets. Challenge yourself to see what's hiding and use it."
Published by Edible DC. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digitaleditions.sheridan.com/article/Department+of+Homefood+Security/2872981/434657/article.html.