Should composting be mandatory in Massachusetts?
Member of the Brookline Solid Waste Advisory Committee, and of the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Sierra Club
The Commonwealth continues to face a solid waste crisis. We are running out of landfill space, and trash and recycling costs are going up fast for municipalities. Everyone wants to reduce waste, so we need a plan to handle the various types of trash.
In the 1980s, many municipalities started curbside recycling, and in 1993, the state began making recycling mandatory (by banning recyclables from your trash). Municipal recycling has been largely successful, diverting roughly 30 percent statewide, according to data from the state Department of Environmental Protection, a rate that remains stubbornly constant. So what is the largest category of waste that is currently being trashed? The US Environmental Protection Agency found that food waste, or organics, accounts for 22 percent of municipal solid waste. Currently, only 5 percent is diverted nationally into composting. Sounds like low-hanging fruit!
Here in Massachusetts, we have already taken a major first step to divert organics. In 2014, the state required businesses and institutions to separately dispose of food waste if they produce one ton or more per week (think cafeterias and the grocery industry). Food that can’t be recovered is sent to farms, compost sites or “anaerobic digesters,” which are industrial plants that convert food to energy. This requirement has spurred an increase in the number of these facilities across the state. Next we need to cut the threshold to one-half ton for large food waste producers.
As the infrastructure continues to develop, cities and towns should provide universal access to food waste diversion for residents and smaller businesses. For example, Cambridge now offers voluntary curbside composting at no added charge for all residents in buildings with up to 12 units, as well as drop-off sites for those ineligible or who prefer that option. Leading communities should institute mandatory composting. Then the state can follow by banning organics from trash.
Additionally, backyard composting should still be encouraged as it avoids trucking and tipping costs and produces wholesome fertilizer.
And what’s next after food waste? We are seeing a similar trend for discarded clothing, which accounts for about 6 percent of municipal solid waste. Let’s get on track to zero waste!
Amanda Orlando Kesterson
Gloucester resident, member of Republican State Committee
One day when I was in the cafeteria in the seventh grade, I noticed a bin set aside next to the trash can labeled “Recycling.” I had no knowledge of what recycling was, but our school started to encourage and educate all of us about it. Fast forward 25 years, and now I automatically recycle, and teach my children to as well.
Changing behavior is the result of time and education, not government mandates. So, the recent push by cities to impose such mandates as bans on plastic bags and styrofoam cups and containers are not, in my view, as effective as educating consumers and businesses and providing them financial incentives to move in those directions. The same theory applies to mandating residents to set aside their compost materials for curbside pick-up.
Busy moms and dads running around to work and their children’s activities barely have time to get dinner on the table and to do their housework. With mandatory composting, government officials would only be adding pressure and stress to the lives of those residents by requiring them to separate and dispose their food waste and other compost. It is yet another way that government makes the lives of working people harder and more expensive. Additionally, the receptacles needed for the composting would pose an additional cost to working families and seniors if they are required to either directly purchase the compost bins or to pay for them indirectly through their tax dollars.
Rather than imposing yet another government mandate, it would be more effective to provide an economic incentive for working families and businesses to participate in a composting program. One example might be a tax refund or rebate that households or businesses could earn based on how much compostable materials they leave curbside. Then it would be a choice of each household or business whether to participate, rather than a mandate forced on them. If the incentive is great enough, I believe the people will respond positively.
Over time, through education and economic-incentive based approaches, cities and towns would find more participation from the residents and businesses towards these goals.
This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.