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Ellis Burruss of Brunswick lifts the lid from his plastic compost bin. Inside are coffee grounds and filters, sunflower seed shells, orange peels and tea bags. When the bin is full, Burruss said they'll move it to a new location, take the material that hasn't composted and put it back in the bin and then use the rest of the compost in their garden. 

The Frederick Compost Workgroup is encouraging Frederick County residents to start composting for International Compost Awareness Week.

“This is a week, globally, that people focus on the benefits of compost and the benefits of composting,” said Linda Norris-Waldt, a member of the workgroup. “We all know that the benefits of composting are to divert materials from our landfills and we know that at least 15 percent is food waste and then there’s a larger percentage of that that is yard waste, which now is not supposed to be going to landfills, and other organic materials.”

The Frederick Compost Workgroup is a group of volunteers that is working to increase the “activity in composting in Frederick County and the availability of composting in Frederick County.”

The group was formed in 2017 when its members hosted the Frederick Compost Summit and it advocates for infrastructure that supports commercial composting from places like schools, restaurants and hospitals and encourages individuals to do it, too.

Norris-Waldt said about 30 to 40 percent of what goes to the landfill could be composted if the infrastructure, like a commercial composting facility, was available and people also did backyard composting.

“We want to push that idea and make people aware of the contribution they could make in reducing what goes to the landfill,” she said, adding that having commercial composting would close the loop in the Frederick County community because the waste would be collected locally, made locally and used locally.

Ellis Burruss, a workgroup member, said the workgroup grew out of the work of the What’s Next Steering Committee, which was created by Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner and looked at alternatives to waste management after the county decided not to use an incinerator.

“That group determined that one of the biggest components of our waste is organic waste that is now going to landfills and … the recommendation was that that be separated from our waste stream and composted and used to enrich our local soils,” he said.

There are different ways to compost. People can have receptacles at their homes or use a service like Key City Compost.

Key City Compost is a local business that offers weekly and bi-weekly residential pick-up options as well as commercial collection and help with home composting, according to their website.

“The benefit of the commercial composting is that you can put more things in there because it’s a higher temperature,” said Patrice Gallagher, a member of the workgroup. “You can’t throw meat and bones and things like that into your backyard compost but you can in a commercial situation.”

At home, people can compost items like coffee grounds and filters, banana and orange peels, sunflower seed shells, egg shells and tea bags.

Burruss said for many years he would take his organic waste and deposit it “over the back fence into a wooded area on [his] property.” Now, he has a plastic compost bin that he got from the City of Brunswick.

“The plastic compost bin that just sits on the ground is one way of doing it, or if you’re not in a place where you’re able to do that, get in touch with Key City Compost,” he said.

While Burruss, Norris-Waldt and Gallagher are all backyard composting, Allison Wack, who follows the workgroup on Facebook, is using Key City Compost and said the process is easy.

“I had been trying to compost on my own for several years,” Wack said. “Environmental issues are very important to us and … it was killing me to see my food waste go in the trash when I knew that I also garden and it’s wonderful for the garden.”

Wack said Key City Compost gives them a bucket to collect their organic waste in and then picks the bucket up once a week and delivers a new bucket.

And then once or twice a year, they deliver bags of compost back to Wack. A delivery was made just a couple weeks ago and Wack said it was the perfect amount for her townhouse garden.

“It was so fun to, you know, show my kids that this beautiful, brown dirt is what’s left over from all our food scraps that we’ve been giving them for the last year so yeah, it’s really exciting,” she said, adding that Key City Compost can take waste that couldn’t be composted at home like meat scraps.

Wack said that composting is something that’s very easy for most households to do and a great way to contribute to a healthy environment in the community.

Burruss, Gallagher and Norris-Waldt said there are several reasons to compost and benefits to composting.

Burruss said that throwing tens of thousands of tons of organic waste into a landfill costs the county millions of dollars.

“It is a big cost for the county, for us, the taxpayers,” he said. “On the other hand, you can produce this compost, this soil enrichment, which can replace purchasing commercial fertilizers or soil amendments, so you’re taking garbage and converting it into what I call garden gold.”

He added that any process will cost money. Commercially, things like collection and investment in the composting facility would require money.

Composting is also good for the environment.

“When you throw food waste and other organic waste into a landfill, it products methane, which really does contribute to climate problems,” said Gallagher. “So, if you keep it out of the landfill and instead make it into a soil amendment, you win all the way around.”

And for people who garden, compost helps enrich the soil, grow healthier plants and fight plant diseases.

It also doesn’t just have to be used in gardens.

“When you use this kind of organic material on a larger scale, in farming or in other contexts, it’s– the healthier soils hold more water, it’s better for runoff, it’s an amendment for farmers so that they don’t have to use petroleum-based amendments for their soil,” Gallagher said.

For people that don’t have gardens, composting is still good. Burruss said it’s a moral concern for households and Gallagher said “there would always be someplace or person who would gladly take it.”

Follow Hannah on Twitter: @hannah_himes

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