Save your banana peels, save the landfill

Food Scraps Dept.
By ZACH GREEN  |  May 29, 2013

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According to the EPA, the average American generates more than 140 pounds of food scraps a year, the vast majority of which end up in local landfills. Starting in June, though, certain Providence and Pawtucket residents will have an alternative; for a monthly fee, ecoRI — the non-profit, environmental news and outreach organization — will pick up their orange peels, coffee grinds, and egg shells and haul them to local urban farms, where the scraps will be composted and turned into nutrient-rich soil.

The program works like this: participants will get a five-gallon pickle bucket recycled from Geoff's on Benefit Street for their food waste and, every Wednesday (or every other Wednesday, depending on the plan participants choose; weekly pickup is $32, biweekly is $16), ecoRI members will drive to participating homes and swap out full buckets for clean ones. Then in the spring, once the composting process is complete, participants will receive back a portion of the soil their food scraps have helped create.

The scrap program comes at a busy time for ecoRI. On June 1 and 2 they'll hold their third annual "Reuse Sale," featuring gently used comic books, clothes, sewing machines, toys, gas grills, and DVDs. The following week, they will launch ecoMass, a Bay State version of their news outlet covering Rhode Island since 2009. Amidst all the action, though, programs manager Kevin Proft had a few spare minutes to talk trash with the Phoenix.

Our conversation has been edited and condensed.

WHY IS ECORI STARTING A FOOD SCRAP COLLECTION PROGRAM? The landfill in Johnston is rapidly filling up. We don't really put trash in the landfill, we put trash on top of the landfill. There's a height limit and it's regulated that [the landfill can't be] higher than that . . . and they predict that they're going to reach that limit in between 20 and 25 years. After the landfill is full, we don't really have a solution for our trash. So what everybody should be working to do is to put as little in that landfill as they can.

[Additionally, we want to] try and make some money for our journalism and our organization . . . [and] just to raise people's awareness for composing in general — of how you do it, and to get people talking about it, get people demanding that they have options to compost if they don't have a backyard [where] they can do that themselves.

YOU'RE PARTNERING WITH A NUMBER OF ORGANIZATIONS ON THIS PROJECT, INCLUDING THE CITY OF PROVIDENCE. DO YOU SEE THE PROGRAM EXPANDING CITYWIDE? I think that composting is something that is not necessarily on the back burner anymore. Sheila Dormody [the city's Sustainability Director] . . . is making this a priority. The city of Providence received a grant, [and] they will hopefully be setting up localized compost hubs...around the city where people can bring their food scraps. Whether [our program] turns into a municipal collection where you put your trash bin, your recycling bin, and your compost bin out and a truck comes by and picks it up — I don't know. But [composting in general] is something that I think Providence is experimenting with, and is trying to figure out.

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