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Should cities and towns mandate composting for all their residents?

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Gretel Clark

Hamilton resident; chaired the town’s former Waste Reduction Committee

Gretel ClarkJosh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Nova Scotia, Vermont, and South Korea currently mandate composting for all their residents. I would guess their reasons for doing so match those of our small town — Hamilton — which implemented mandatory recycling in February. Those reasons are financial and environmental.

For our town, the financial benefit is clear. It costs $40 per ton to dispose of our compost at a local facility. By contrast, the trash disposal, or “tipping” fee Hamilton incurs at the incinerator where we send our solid waste is currently $82 per ton. Moreover, it will rise to $85 per ton July 1, and $93.19 per ton by 2024.


Compost is picked up by a split-body truck that collects recyclables at the same time. As a result the cost — in both dollars and carbon footprint — of hauling our compost to the composting site is negligible. Moreover, removing compost from the waste stream eliminates the heavy stuff, which we estimate at 25 percent to 30 percent of the town’s waste, at a far lower cost.

For me, and for our town’s Board of Selectmen, the environmental reasons are especially compelling. Composting is a rare opportunity for the average citizen to help fight global climate change. As the board wrote in its new policy, “removing organics from the waste cycle is one simple action that Hamilton residents can take to mitigate the increased carbon emissions caused by burning it with our trash, and to sequester that carbon by locking it into the ground while replenishing the earth and reversing the serious trend of fertile topsoil loss.”

Roughly a decade ago, after providing all residents with compost bins and hiring a hauler to pick it up weekly, we found that only 30 percent to 40 percent of our population participated in the program. By mandating it, reluctant participants are now finding that their trash amounts are significantly smaller and their trash is cleaner. Moreover, their 13-gallon compost toter provides a more secure vessel for decomposing waste. But best of all, we can each feel the satisfaction of having taken a small step to reduce our carbon footprint.



Mary Jane Hanron

South Shore resident; former member of the Republican town committees in Hingham and Weymouth

Mary Jane HanronHandout

Apple cores, potato peelings, and coffee grounds are found in most home kitchens. Often considered waste or garbage, they can contribute to compost, the rich material used by farmers, gardeners, and growers to produce goods that stock food stores. The process is the ultimate circle of life.

At a time when we face worldwide environmental challenges, making a difference individually appears insurmountable. But it’s not. Knowledge, techniques, and simple, fun gadgets can enable us to contribute actively to maintaining a healthier, thriving world. Composting is a great example of that.

Yet sadly, there is a push now to expand composting by having governments require people to participate in it. Making composting mandatory — instead of an activity we voluntarily choose to do to help our planet — will only interfere with its growing popularity.

To introduce coercion and social shaming by developing “rules” and consequences for noncompliance also seems to be a dangerous overreach of power. In our constitutional republic, the primary role of government is to protect freedoms, allowing individuals to make their own choices, as long as they do not harm others.


Mandating composting also raises issues of practicality. Though seemingly simple and sensible, composting may not be easy for all concerned. Physical limitations and lack of space could make compliance difficult.

Moreover, it is not clear how this type of mandate could even work on a large scale. Who would enforce it? How would violations be proven? Will it truly come to pass that officials will be foraging through household trash?

Individuals should be able to pursue other ways to preserve the environment. Whether your aim is to be a good citizen or an effective government leader, serving the community can take multiple forms. Free Americans are qualified to make such decisions without oversight by the government that includes dictating their household practices.

Composting is a useful trend with positive outcomes. Many citizens will participate or already do. For others, managing the process may be difficult.

Americans, compost to your heart’s desire! Allow others to serve their community as they wish.

Government officials, kindly stay out of the kitchen. You don’t belong there.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.

This is not a scientific survey. Please only vote once.