Takoma Park is turning its trash into soil. And soon more residents will be able to take part in the food waste pick-up program.
Last February the city initiated a pilot compost pick-up program for 365 homes, with additional drop-off points for food waste at farmers markets for residents not in the program. Food waste and paper products - from eggshells to pizza boxes - are picked up from participants’ homes and taken to an industrial-scale compost facility in Baltimore where waste decomposes into nutrient-rich soil.
The pilot program has been so successful that many residents began calling the city asking if they too could have their compost collected. On Monday, the Takoma Park Council passed passed an ordinance approving the expansion.
Currently, city staff operates pick-ups for the 300 homes in Wards 2 and 3, and a contractor collects food waste from the 65 homes in Ward 1. Pick-up is opt-in and participants received a 5-gallon bucket to set out on the curb alongside trash and recycling. The city also initially provided a six-month supply of compostable bags to line the bucket. Twenty-five to 35 percent of residents who received information about the program chose to participate in the pilot. The city has covered the $33,000 cost of the program.
The plan will expand collection to an estimated additional 500 homes at a cost of $45,065, or about $2.65 each week, per home, for 34 weeks, also covered by the city. With this addition, the program will be offered to a total of 2,810 of the 3,300 homes that receive city trash collection services.
Special Projects Coordinator Nima Upadhyay, who oversees the program in the Department of Public Works said that continuing the services currently in place will be much cheaper next year, now that the program has been set up and the city already invested in the buckets for participants. She estimates that next year’s collection will cost about $10,500 for the 300 homes the city currently collects from, factoring in only fuel and the tipping fee - the $55 per week cost the city pays Chesapeake Compost Works in Baltimore at drop-off - but not including staff costs or replacement of lost buckets, which the city provides. Staff costs were also not included in the initial cost.
In a survey of participants, only 31 percent said that they would pay for pick-up. Ninety percent said that they plan to continue participating with free service.
The Public Works Department estimated that food waste will account for 3 percent of the city’s waste stream with the expansion, increasing the city’s trash diversion rate to 57 percent. Currently 54 percent is diverted as recycling and yard waste.
Chesapeake Compost Works in Baltimore is the closest compost facility, according to the Department of Public Works. Here, waste is turned into compost soil, which the company sells. Takoma Park is giving away up to 25 gallons of completed compost to each participant who wants it, available for pickup at the public works office until November 15. However this soil is not free to the city, which bought it this year for participants to try at a cost of $20 per home.
Participant Judith Colwell said, “it’s great, hardly anything goes into my regular trash can anymore.” Between recycling and compost, some weeks she has no trash to put out, she said. She also discovered that storing the compost in her freezer eliminates the sometimes unpleasant smell that used to come from the bucket.
Another participant, Graham Copp said he hopes the program can serve as a model for other cities. His family used to keep a compost pile outside, mostly with yard clippings, for fear that putting food out would attract rats.
“I’m glad we’re reducing the amount of waste we’re putting into the landfill,” he said. “It’s good for the environment.”
Copp said he’s looking forward to using the completed compost in his garden. “It’s going to be really food for our soil,” he said, “It’s a good feeling to know that the food we discarded will go into helping our soil and helping us grow food in our garden next year.”