The politics of decay
I gave up on home composting a few years back after briefly trying a tall tumbler; there was no good place to keep it, and my neglect of it in its obscure location made for poor or minimal results. However, I couldn’t stand the thought of allowing organic waste go to the landfill, so now I have a bucket that is picked up regularly by the Farmer Pirates, who use it for their urban farming efforts. As a bonus, they return some finished compost once or twice a year.
What I’d like is for my city to have a program that picks up organic waste. Buffalo does collect bagged leaves in the fall, sending them to a commercial facility somewhere, but that’s it—unlike ninety other cities that now regularly pick up compostable materials like grass clippings, other yard waste, and food waste. In San Francisco, a green organic waste bin sits next to the blue recycling bin and the black landfill bin. Note the significance of the colors; the idea is to place as little as possible in the somber landfill bin and look for alternatives for those items that don’t qualify for recycling or composting. San Francisco’s goal is to achieve zero waste by 2020; as of June of this year, the city was about eighty percent there. San Diego, Los Angeles, and New York have since set zero waste goals. New York has the longest way to go, but does plan to reduce solid waste by ninety percent by 2030. Other cities that have set zero waste goals include Minneapolis, Oakland, Washington, DC, Seattle, Austin, and Dallas.
I do think it’s only a matter of time before Buffalo joins these municipalities. Until it does, we have people like our local compost guru Dave Majewski*. For over a decade now, Majewski has been spreading the gospel of green infrastructure—runoff solutions, rain gardens, meadows, and more. He received an EPA award for an urban habitat he completed on Buffalo’s East Side and now maintains a (roughly) four-acre compost facility in the same area, where he has room for a couple dozen large piles of compost, each one with a label that is regularly updated. Initial high temperatures kill weed seeds and any pathogens that might be present; when the piles cool, they’re ready to use. Visitors can wander throughout the lot and never detect anything other than a faint and pleasant woodsy scent. Majewski sells his compost to large-scale operations that need it for sustainable landscapes.
Majewski stresses that all compost is not created equal, and is regularly studies soil science, recommending such books as Grass, Soil, Hope, and, of course, Teeming with Microbes. He notes that some commercial producers include materials that don’t belong in compost (rubber, plastics, artificial fertilizers, and useless filler) and that some small producers don’t properly turn or aerate their product. On his website, Majewski explains his simple guideline for all his projects: what would nature do? His goal is to emulate the natural decomposition process that creates rich, crumbly humus on the forest floor. Many gardeners reading this know the value of a lovingly maintained compost pile, but not everyone has the space or the time to do it themselves. This is where municipalities can step up, at the same time preventing tons of organic waste from becoming landfill fodder.
This fall, Buffalo citizens will once again be invited to put out their leaves for collection. These leaves are being composted somewhere, but not necessarily for citizen benefit, and leaves are but one ingredient in great compost. A municipal organic waste pick-up and compost program is a natural outgrowth of any city’s ongoing focus on sustainable action and healthy living. Do you have one in yours?
*Majewski’s website is in progress.
on September 15, 2015 at 8:44 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet, Unusually Clever People.