Curbside composting

Going Green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  August 29, 2012

It seems like such a no-brainer; it's almost shocking that the curbside compost pick-up idea has taken so long to catch on around here. But now that the new non-profit Garbage to Garden is on the beat, I wouldn't be surprised to see huge numbers of Greater Portlanders adopting the system within the year. I picked up my own bucket this morning.

It all started with a conversation in the car just a few months ago. Tyler Frank and Sable Sanborn, a couple who lives on Vesper Street in the East End and has a compost pile of their own, were discussing how odd it was that no one in the Portland area had tackled the problem of residential food waste. (The fledgling Resurgam Zero Food Waste is addressing the issue within the local restaurant community; see "Restaurant composting closes another local-food loop," by Amy Anderson, April 27.) Within two months, Frank and Sanborn launched Garbage to Garden: Curbside Composting. They already have more than 200 participants in Portland, South Portland, Falmouth, and Yarmouth.

Members, who contribute a minimum donation of $11 per month to account for travel costs, receive a six-gallon bucket into which they can throw all organic materials — everything from fish bones to orange rinds to pasta to yard waste. The only things that are firmly off-limits are pet waste and inorganics like plastic or glass. Customers place their buckets next to their trash and recycling containers every week. Garbage to Garden picks up the full bucket and leaves a clean one in its place.

At a site in Durham (the couple hopes to find a location closer to Portland at some point), the contents of the bucket are put through a processor to ensure that pieces of waste are small enough to break down. Then Frank and Sanborn let the bacteria do their work, turning the pile of leftovers into rich, black humus, a/k/a the end result of a healthy compost pile.

The benefits of composting are well documented, but in case you need a refresher, here are the top reasons to collect your biodegradable waste separately from your regular trash:

• According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, "composting organic materials that have been diverted from landfills ultimately avoids the production of methane and leachate formulation in the landfills." In English: food waste — which comprises the largest single component of municipal waste reaching US landfills and incinerators — produces greenhouse gases and a toxic solution called "leachate" that can sometimes contaminate soil and groundwater. Keeping it out of your trash bag is better for the environment.

• Composting cuts down on the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides; it improves and enriches soil quality, whether you're a backyard gardener or a larger-scale farmer.

• Through anaerobic digestion technology (in which organic materials are broken down and converted into bio-gas — much like what takes place in a cow's stomach!), there are opportunities for food scraps to become an energy source.

Some might wonder how effective a compost pile can be in the dead of winter. Don't worry! The inside of a well-tended compost heap can reach 140 degrees, and its contents are ideal for starting your spring garden. (If you want, Garbage to Garden will deliver a bucket of finished compost right to your door.)

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