The County Council got its first taste of a countywide composting program that could change how Frederick County manages and collects its trash.
Geosyntec senior consultant Jeremy Morris fielded questions from the council on the cost and feasibility of implementing a program that would collect food waste at single-family houses, downtown restaurants and schools in a way similar to the blue bin recycling system.
The idea is to phase in a third bin that would be devoted to food waste and soiled paper products, such as pizza boxes, that would otherwise find their way to a landfill.
Members of the council focused their questions on what it would cost households — which Geosyntec predicts would be less than $10 a month — and what county codes would need to change to allow the compost facilities to operate.
The county could take several approaches to absorb the cost per student or offset the higher costs that restaurants would need to pay to participate in composting, Morris said.
“Even if there’s an expense involved, we’ll have to weigh that against what it would cost to build another landfill,” Councilman Jerry Donald said in an interview after the workshop on Tuesday.
The county is currently in a good situation: Fuel costs are low, and it sends a majority of its trash to Pennsylvania to preserve space in its own landfill, he said. But the county cannot bank on this situation forever, he said.
Estimates suggest that Frederick County collects less than 5 percent of its food waste. The Maryland Zero Waste Plan sets the goal for the county to divert 60 percent of its food waste from landfills by 2025 and 90 percent by 2040.
The plan outlined by Geosyntec and the Solid Waste Steering Committee — commonly known as What’s Next — could get the county close to those targets.
The council’s second concern — siting the composting facilities — would fall on the county Department of Utilities and Waste Management, said Director Kevin Demosky, who has been involved throughout the process.
“The easy part is the study. The hard part is — as I’ve been saying all along — is how to pay for it, where to site and what legislative changes will need to be made holistically across the board,” Demosky told the council at the workshop.
Geosyntec and the committee recommend the county start with a pilot program in schools and restaurants in downtown Frederick and slowly scale up over time. The report predicts the county will eventually need 12 compost facilities that would each process 10,000 cubic yards of compost a year.
Most people would object to the construction of a landfill near their property, but a small compost facility on a small number of acres may be more palatable, County Council Vice President M.C. Keegan-Ayer said after the meeting.
The potential to compost on agriculturally zoned land, which already has a flow of machinery on and off the property, may also be an option to explore, Donald said.
“It’s not turning the neighborhood upside down,” Donald said.
During the pilot, the expectation is that composting facilities will also approach large institutions such as hospitals and colleges to bring their compostable materials to their site, Morris said. This statement addressed concerns repeatedly raised by people following the process that large institutions were not included in the rollout of the proposed composting plan.
The plan presented on Tuesday is a skeleton that now needs the muscle and meat, Keegan-Ayer said.
The committee plans to submit a final copy of its solid waste management study to the county government in a few days, Morris said.
But Keegan-Ayer said she did not foresee the role of the committee or Geosyntec’s being finished yet. She would like to see a study of how county codes would need to change to accommodate the development of compost facilities.
“We’ll have to see,” Keegan-Ayer said. “This is the beginning of what will be a fairly long process.”