DEPARTMENT OF HOMEFOOD SECURITY HOW THE DISTRICT IS CURBING FOOD WASTE (and what you can do) By Whitney Pipkin When Josh Singer fi rst 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 fi gure 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. Th e 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 landfi lls. 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 landfi lls with curbside compost collection, the District is taking a multi-pronged approach. While District offi cials 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. Th is spring, the city began working with Compost Cab to off er 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—fi lled with eggshells and coff ee grounds, corncobs and cut fl owers—and, 22 | Fall 2017 in the process, keep that refuse out of the landfi ll 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.” 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’ Offi ce 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. “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.” Even before the free city program, Compost Cab has been off ering 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 fi ve-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 offi cials hope the farmers But there’s a lot further to go. Th e 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. Th e 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.