Recycling has become a cornerstone of our lives here in Frederick County. The blue bins that line the streets once every two weeks in front of our homes have become a familiar sight. We’ve come a long way from the 1991 pilot program for 4,000 households that launched recycling in the county.
But an article in The New York Times recently made us wonder if we couldn’t go a little bit beyond the plastic bottles, aluminum foil, paper and cardboard that make up most of what we throw in our recycling carts.
The Times article reported that following a highly successful pilot program, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will roll out a plan to allow all city residents to recycle food scraps. Residents will be issued containers into which they dump their food waste, and the program, while initially voluntary, is expected to become mandatory.
According to the Times, food waste and organic materials account for about a third of the city’s trash. If diverted from the three landfills to which waste is trucked at the cost of $80 a ton, the city could save $100 million a year. Initially, the program will handle 100,000 tons of food scraps that will be sent to a hired composting plant.
The program is expected to be so successful, the administration will seek proposals to build its own processing plant to transform the waste into biogas, which would be burned to generate electricity, according to the Times.
If you’re thinking New York is a long way from Frederick County, you’re correct. But a similar program is in place closer to home in Howard County, which is set to expand a food-waste recycling pilot program initiated more than a year ago.
According to a report in The (Baltimore) Sun, the county has completed a $800,000 processing plant to compost the collected food. That compost will be sold back to residents and will be used in parks and on other government property.
“It will, when it’s successful on a broader scale, show to other jurisdictions that it’s possible,” Howard County Executive Ken Ulman told The Sun in an April article.
About one in five households in the area targeted for the pilot take part, and so far, about 200 tons of food waste has gone to a composting facility, The Sun notes. Frederick County officials should take note and see how the Howard program fares.
In 2011, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated in the U.S., of which only 4 percent was diverted for composting. Food makes up the largest chunk of what goes into the nation’s landfills — 21 percent — behind plastics (18 percent) and paper and cardboard (15 percent). It’s decomposition in the landfill releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, according to the EPA.
Clearly there’s a need here to create a more environmentally friendly course than simply dumping food in our waste bins.
We’d like to see the county investigate the possibility of a local food waste recycling program (whether or not we commit to the waste-to-energy plant currently under consideration). It’s worth the discussion, could lengthen the life of the landfill in Frederick County, and benefit the environment.