These days, weird weather is in no short supply – and with weird weather comes conversations about our planet and we are doing (or could do) to keep it as healthy as possible. Washington DC is no stranger to these talks. In fact, on Earth Day in late April, DC led by example through a new initiative that is intended to make composting easier throughout the city.
Your first question, like mine, might be embarrassing. Simply put, what is composting? Besides a hipster restaurant buzzword and something that hippies are into, that is. Composting is, more or less, nature’s way of recycling. It’s the process of turning previously used organic materials into rich soil (a compost), letting nutrients become nutrients again. There are different kinds of composting, of course (such as backyard composing, worm composting, and more…but this is the basic idea.)
Why does it matter? Yard and food waste, according to Recycle Works, make up 30% of total waste stream. The act of composting helps redirect that waste from landfills, waterways, and water treatment facilities. In addition, composting is largely beneficial for surrounding soil and the associated plants, not to mention that it is a cost-effective way to keep gardens looking nice and plentiful.
Although there are composing services that offer to pickup scraps for a fee, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser says that “We know that we’re going to produce waste, and, for cities, like ours, we want to manage it better.” The city’s answer, at least for now comes in the form of a program that allows and encourages District dwellers to drop off compostable trash at farmers markets throughout the city. All throughout May, the program will launch at different farmers markets in DC, making eight sites in total available to those who’d like to dispose of waste differently. Accepted materials include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, paper tea bags, loose tea, bread, grains, cereals, rice, pasta, egg shells, nutshells, corncobs, stale beans, flour, spices, and cut or dried flowers. Drop-offs are accepted in covered plastic containers, paper or plastic bags.
Where will the resulting compost go? The successes of the program will be scattered throughout DC’s 36 community gardens, reaching all the way from Anacostia to Glover Park. The compost will also be offered back to the community for free. The hope is not only to help the planet at large, but also DC specifically. When waste is better managed, it makes issues such as pest control easier to keep under wraps, keeping neighborhoods as pleasant as possible.
Even though DC is behind in the compost game (trailing notoriously green places such as San Fran, Portland, and Seattle), this is a step in the right direction. Annie White, the manager of DPW’s Office of Waste Diversion says:
“One of the exciting thins about this program is that, as much as possible, it is going to urban farms and gardens that have composting operations. Our contractor has a goal that the food waste generated in each ward would be used to build new soil in that ward.”
No matter how far behind we are in taking care of the planet, when I check the weather, this much becomes clear: every step forward matters. Every egg shell turned into fuel for plants, every banana peel that isn’t left for dead on the sidewalk – it’s all good stuff! So whether you remember to trudge your scrappy food leftovers down to the farmers market weekly, or can only remember once a month, jump in! DC’s getting its compost on, and you should too. Here’s to you, Mother Nature. Rock on.