In 2018, only 2.6 million tons of food scraps were composted, compared to 35 million tons that went into landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). What are organizations doing to increase composting in the United States? In observance of International Compost Awareness Week (May 2-8), this interview features insights with Frank Franciosi, executive director of the U.S. Composting Council.
Buzby: What’s the mission of the U.S. Composting Council?
Franciosi: We believe compost manufacturing and compost use are central to creating healthy soils, clean air and water, a stable climate, and a sustainable society. Our sister organization the Compost Research & Education Foundation funds initiatives that enhance the stature and practices of the composting industry by supporting scientific research, increasing awareness, and educating practitioners and the public to advance environmentally and economically sustainable organics recycling.
Buzby: What are the benefits of composting food waste?
Franciosi: By investing in compost manufacturing infrastructure, training, and policy, 13.8 million tons of food scraps can be diverted annually from landfills through compost manufacturing, reducing an estimated 4.94 million tons in greenhouse gas equivalents, while creating over 14,200 new jobs.
Buzby: Why does composting matter for climate change?
Franciosi: Methane is 25 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane is generated in open landfills from decaying organic matter. The EPA reports that municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, approximately 15.1 percent of these emissions in 2018. When properly managed, the aerobic process of composting does not produce methane because methane-producing microbes are not active in the presence of oxygen. Compost also sequesters carbon and returns nutrients and minerals from food scraps to the soil.
Buzby: How do you spread the word about the benefits of composting?
Franciosi: We welcome anyone interested in composting – backyard composters, municipal programs, and large-scale centralized operators – to visit our websites for resources training, and certification. In June, we are launching a Target Organics Hub, a one-stop resource for municipalities to access information on how to start an organics recycling program for their community.
Buzby: Do you see changes in how much people are composting?
Franciosi: Over the past five to ten years, there has been an increase in food scrap composting. Municipalities like San Francisco were the early pioneers. Boulder, Austin, Phoenix, and Minneapolis all have successful curbside collection programs. There is a nationwide surge of growth of community composters: some manage household subscription programs and some have expanded into restaurants and food services. Consumers are also demanding a more sustainable way of handing their organic waste. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and just recently Maryland, all have regulations on food scrap collection and mandates on keeping organics out of landfills and incinerators.
Buzby: What is the most important take-away for the people to know about composting food waste?
Franciosi: Food scrap is an untapped resource. It can and should be diverted from landfills and composted. The existing waste management infrastructure in the U.S. needs to be reconfigured so that this valuable resource can be returned to our soils. I urge you all to support source separated composting in your community at all levels.
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