Expense Deters Town Sponsored Curbside Food Waste Collection for Composting

Compost! ~ Courtesy image (c) 2022 all rights reserved

It’s a balancing act.

“There’s a ton of interest among residents” for town-sponsored curbside collection of food waste for composting, according to Liz Antanavica, refuse and recycling administrator for the Department of Public Works.

But it’s an expensive service. “We want to be responsible with the budget,” the administrator said. “The economics of this are challenging –- because there are not a lot of places that take this at volume.”

“I’m trying to strike a good balance between environmental value and being realistic about cost,” Antanavica said, “focusing on what is the best solution for Bedford.”

Local advocates for food waste diversion are the town Energy and Sustainability Committee and the Bedford chapter of Mothers Out Front.

More than 500 local households participated in a recycling survey in June, and among the preferences expressed were “people would like to see increased food waste diversion,” Antanavica reported.

“The industry is so young, and there aren’t a lot of places that accept food waste,” she said. Much of the basis for price is the cost of transportation, Antanavica said. “Proximity to your processor is the key to keeping costs low.”

Black Earth Compost, based in Gloucester, operates a decomposition facility in Groton. Some 330 Bedford households have individual collection agreements with Black Earth, at an annual cost of about $162 per household, she said.

Diversion of student-generated food waste collected by Black Earth is scheduled to begin in September at Bedford High School and John Glenn Middle School, and Antanavica said the eventual goal is to cover the elementary schools as well. “Usually the younger students do a better job,” she said, noting that Ken Whittier, director of food services, “has been really supportive.”

The composting collection for grades 6-12 will be mandated under state law beginning Nov. 1, Antanavica noted, which will prohibit including food waste in the trash for facilities that generate at least 1,000 pounds a week. (No one is weighing the food the kids don’t eat; there’s a per capita formula that determines who exceeds a half-ton.)

There are not a lot of municipal models for household collection. Antanavica mentioned Arlington and Cambridge, and added that Watertown is about to implement a pilot program for 1,500 residences. She noted that Wenham and Hamilton have been picking up food waste for about 10 years, but the latter town operates a small processing operation.

Bedford’s former landfill on Carlisle Road is now known as the compost, recycling, and storage center, and it’s “more popular than ever,” Antanavica said. “I’m so happy to see more people using it.” The expansion to a greater range of recyclables now includes scrap metal, and more categories will be added. “That’s what we see as the future of this site.”

One feature that is unlikely to be considered would be food waste decomposition, because of the site’s proximity to wetlands, Antanavica acknowledged.

Backyard composting is still an option, she stressed. The DPW sells bins made of hard plastic built for the process; Antanavica said there is even a “hardship waiver” to make them affordable to all.

“Even if you’re composting in the backyard, it still gets food out of the waste stream,” she said.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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Jan Anthony
July 31, 2022 3:35 pm

For people who do not have/use a garbage disposal in their kitchen sink, backyard composting seems a good, workable option. Aside from this, some form of collection of household food waste makes sense, ie Black Earth, for those who do not have access to either of the first two options. BUT, just how many homes are included in this last group?
While food waste collection with Black Earth certainly seems to make sense for (probably ALL) the schools, I question whether the cost of curbside collection can be justified, based on the number of homes involved. A potential town-wide/accessible Black Earth collection station at our Carlisle Road recycling site could be established, where both the schools and residents could dispose of food waste. It would be important to allow residents to dispose of their household waste in the school bins, perhaps limiting access to these bins to “after school”.
Before wide-ranging discussions of this topic truly get under way, I’d like a good estimate of just how many homes we are talking about.

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