County Recycle Program Updates
(Start Saving Your Food Scraps!)

Written by Ed Murtagh - April 8, 2013
Montgomery County Executive Isaiah Leggett recently increased our county’s waste diversion goal to 70%. To meet this goal, we will need to become educated and engaged in new ways to reduce waste.

Montgomery County Executive Isaiah Leggett recently increased our county’s waste diversion goal to 70%. This may be one of the highest county-wide goals in the nation. To meet this goal, the county’s million residents and half million workers will need to become educated and engaged in new ways to reduce waste. Rohan Ross, Solid Waste & Recycling Supervisor for the City of Takoma Park; Eileen Kao, the Chief of the Recycling Section for the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection; and Yvette Freeman, Chief of Operations from the Silver Spring Urban District, attended the March 25 Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board Committee meeting to talk about what Montgomery County and the local municipalities are doing to help meet the new 70% waste diversion goal. To meet the 70% waste diversion goal, we will need to start diverting food waste from the trash stream and increase the number of recycle collection containers in public areas. The evening produced much information, but in this blog post I will focus on the possible future of food waste diversion, and a second post will focus on expanding the use of recycle containers in our central business districts.

There is a growing nation-wide consensus that we need to address food loss and waste. USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) defines food waste as food loss at the end of the food chain (retail and final consumption); it is caused by the actions of both retailers and consumers. Food waste can include food that has spoiled, food that has not sold by the “Sell By” or “Use By” dates, plate waste, etc. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that in the U.S. we waste around 40% of all edible foods at a staggering economic and environmental cost. The EPA estimates that around 35 million tons of food loss and waste were generated in 2012; 97% of that waste was incinerated or put into landfills. This is a serious problem for many reasons. For example, food waste rotting in landfills is a major source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Reductions in food waste, along with diversions of food waste from our landfills, will help the U.S. efforts to combat climate change. The strategy to reduce food waste includes looking at the entire food chain and working first to reduce food loss and waste, next to recover wholesome food for human consumption, and finally to recycle discards to other uses including animal feed and composting.

While there are numerous efforts by governments and non-profit organizations to reduce waste and recover wholesome foods, the discussions in Silver Spring focused on the diversion of food waste for composting. Ms. Kao explained that Montgomery County has accomplished a lot in the area of waste reduction and that the diversion of food waste is the next frontier for recycling. The county Recycle Staff believes that food waste diversion is an area of growth. Currently there is a pilot project in a Montgomery County government office building. The purpose of the county’s food waste diversion pilot is for the recycle staff to get firsthand experience working with food service. Outreach and education are very important. It will take outreach and training; new collection containers; and signage, stickers, and other prompts to get this effort off the ground. We will need waste haulers who will accept food waste and send it to a commercial compost facility. Currently the biggest obstacle to implementing significant food waste diversion is that there are only two fairly small commercial compost facilities in the region that accept food waste. Right now the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE), the Council of Governments (COG) and other stakeholders have formed a working group to come up with guidelines and standards for commercial compost operators. To be successful, compost operators will need clear guidance. Once there are clear guidelines and standards, there are companies interested in opening larger commercial compost facilities on our area. These larger facilities could accommodate Montgomery County’s food waste.

In addition to the Montgomery County pilot project in Rockville, the City of Takoma Park is piloting a food waste collection program. According to Rohan Ross, the Takoma Park six- month pilot includes collecting food waste from 300 households. Households are given 5-gallon buckets with tops that can seal the buckets. The food waste pickups are on the same day as the yard waste pick ups. Small scale pilots are also on going in Prince Georges and Howard counties.

The U.S Environmental Agency estimates that over 12 percent of our trash is made up food waste. Food waste diversion will, therefore, have to play a significant role in our county’s recycle program if we are ever going to reach our waste diversion goal of 70%. Of course you do not have to wait for the county compost program to come to your community. You can start right now “reducing and reusing” your food waste at home. NRDC’s Food Facts sheet provides “Easy Steps to Reducing Your Food Waste.”