Walsh seeks to sharply increase recycling, composting in Boston

In Cambridge, a composting program is already underway. Boston aims to offer a similar service at curbside.
In Cambridge, a composting program is already underway. Boston aims to offer a similar service at curbside.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The Walsh administration will lay out an ambitious effort to recycle or compost 80 percent of the city’s trash within about 15 years, including a paid subscription pilot program to pick up food waste and surplus textiles at the curbside that could start as soon as this fall.

The plans, to be announced Wednesday, would also expand the collection of yard waste and create a drop-off site on American Legion Highway, while encouraging residents to cut their consumption of products such as single-use plastics.

Called Zero Waste Boston, the plan spells out 30 recommendations to help convert about 638,000 tons of the city’s annual output of about 1.2 million tons of waste to compost, or to recycle it.


The ultimate goal, officials say, is to increase the amount of landfill-bound waste that is recycled or composted to 80 percent by 2035 and to 90 percent by 2050 — up from 25 percent currently.

The removal of solid waste makes up 6 percent of the city’s carbon gas emissions, and the new plan would be part of a broader effort to support the city’s goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050, officials said.

“The Zero Waste Plan is something that we believe is going to lower emissions, reduce natural waste consumption, and strengthen Boston’s economy,” Chris Osgood, the city’s chief of streets, transportation and sanitation, said at a briefing on Tuesday.

“There’s huge opportunity right now to compost more, huge opportunity for recycling right, and some of the steps we’re taking right now I think are going to lead to meaningful changes in the way we handle solid waste in the city of Boston,” he added.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement that: “We need to lead, and design city policies that work for our residents, and for the environment and world we depend upon.


“These initiatives will lead Boston towards becoming a zero waste city, and invest in the future of residents and generations to come.”

A key initiative will be the introduction of curbside collection of food waste for composting, which environmental advocates have pushed for several years. It has already been implemented in other places, including Cambridge.

Osgood said the city will request bids for vendors to provide the collection services. While residents will have to subscribe to the fee-based service, the city plans to subsidize some of the costs.

Cambridge does not charge for curbside composting.

Osgood said he could not estimate what a subscription would cost, saying that determination would be part of the bidding process, though he noted that a program in Denver, with a similar population to Boston’s, has more than 18,000 subscribers. Osgood said the city could implement the program by the fall. The city would also increase the number of weeks it collects yard waste at the curb to 20 from 17, and it would open a free drop-off site for city residents.

Currently, according to city officials, 36 percent of what residents throw away as trash is compostable material, such as food scraps and yard waste, including leaves and grass clippings. The city will offer the compost for sale, for use in gardening, for example, at a reduced cost.

A similar effort will offer a subscription service for the collection of surplus textiles, such as clothing, linens, even teddy bears, officials said. “That’s a lot of waste that can be removed out of the trash,” said Brian Coughlin, the Department of Public Works superintendent for waste reduction.


Moreover, the city will enhance recycling efforts, partly with a $250,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation to expand recycling services at city parks.

And the city recently embarked on a state-sponsored educational campaign called Recycle Right, which outlines which products can be recycled, and which can cause contamination.

(You can recycle a pizza box, but not the part with grease all over it; also, no plastic bags or Styrofoam.)

Contaminated items in recycling bins have driven up the cost of recycling in recent years – the city used to get paid for its recyclables – as recycling centers, mostly in other countries, either reject contaminated items or charge for them.

Coughlin also said the push for streamlining recyclables could force Boston and the state to explore ways to build infrastructure to expand recycling programs on their own.

“We have the ability to grow the infrastructure locally, and that’s what’s we really need,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be done, and if we stop doing this [recycling], it’s not going to happen.”

City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who often focuses on environmental matters and has pushed for curbside composting for eight years, welcomed the city’s rollout, calling it a fresh start in the effort to cut down carbon emissions while also saving money.

But O’Malley called for bigger-picture efforts, such as developing carbon-neutral buildings. He called on the city to look at dissuading the use of single-use plastic items, similar to the ban on plastic bags, which the Jamaica Plain councilor spearheaded last year. He said the city can get “creative in our strategies” to cut down on waste, such as by having outside companies pay to pick up food for composting or textiles.


“There are companies saying we’ll pick it up, we’ll process it, and we’ll pay you for it,” he said. “If done right, and thoughtful, a widespread curbside composting strategy can save the city money.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.