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Should Composting Be Mandatory In US Cities? 861

Hugh Pickens writes "After San Francisco enacted the nation's strictest regulations on composting in 2009, the city has increased the amount of food scraps and plant cuttings it composts to more than 600 tons per day, more than any other city in North America, and recently celebrated the collection one million tons of organic materials. Other cities have been watching as Seattle passed a similar mandate in 2010 diverting about 90,000 tons of organic waste from landfills in the first year and New York City is trying to figure out how to implement this type of program for its 8 million residents. The impact is potentially huge in terms of reducing the load on landfills as a study by San Francisco's Department of Environment shows that more than one third of all waste entering landfills could be composted instead. 'We want to see composting be a standard for everybody,' says Michael Virga, executive director of the U.S. Composting Council. 'Urban, suburban, it doesn't really matter where you are.' Although composting initially costs more than land-filling, over the long-term, the benefits will outweigh the costs. 'We can reduce a large source of landfill-generated greenhouse gases, extend the life of our landfill, and generate a valuable resource for the community in the form of premium soil and mulch,' writes Shanon Boase. 'What's more, this industry generates additional jobs.'"
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Should Composting Be Mandatory In US Cities?

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  • by Wonko the Sane ( 25252 ) * on Thursday December 01, 2011 @12:50PM (#38227194) Journal

    For all non-negative values of X the answer is:


    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 01, 2011 @12:57PM (#38227304)

      I disagree with this. Composting being mandatory is a good thing. Our landfills are filling up quickly and something has to be done about it - having the government regulating this is good for society overall, as most individuals won't do it out of their own will, even knowing that it's the right thing to do.

      Composting serves more purposes than just decreasing the amount of stuff in landfills. It minimizes pests on landfills, as compostable material won't be available to grow the pest population. Compost can be sold to farms to help grow crops, which gives money back to the government and savings back to the farms.

    • by crow ( 16139 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:02PM (#38227378) Homepage Journal

      If you want X to be provided as a tax-supported service, as rubbish removal is for residents in much of the USA, then it is completely appropriate for the government to regulate the use of X.

      This can be done in a variety of ways, ranging from strict requirements to creating financial incentives (such as where you have to pay for each bag of trash, but not for recycling or composting, which is how it works in my town).

    • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:11PM (#38227510) Homepage Journal

      But what if you reframe the question as "Should X be a condition for Y service?" then it gets harder to answer, and also much more interesting to think about.

      "Should composting be mandatory?" Absolutely not.

      "Should composting be a required condition for using municipal garbage service?" Maybe. And that's what the real discussion should be about.

      A lot of seemingly left-vs-right authoritarian-vs-libertarian flamewars could probably be avoided by looking at things in a quid-pro-quo "not just abstract social contract but a tangible you-see-it-in-action every day contract" perspective.

      • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:49PM (#38228276)

        Around here we went mandatory on composting a few years back. It wasn't anywhere near the infringement on our liberties that a lot of libertarians would have you believe. We had to get the service unless we composted the items ourselves. IIRC there was a boost to the trash collection fee that went into effect about that time as well.

        So, we had the option of composting ourselves or arranging for it to be composted by somebody else.

        But, ultimately, it is a matter of the social contract, landfill space isn't unlimited and if communities take recycling and composting seriously the total cost that they pay can definitely decrease. We saw a similar situation with water use. We pay more more a gallon of water than they do in most parts of the country, but it's incredibly clean and over all our water bill is still substantially lower than it is elsewhere.

    • by hakioawa ( 127597 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:24PM (#38227738)

      This is why I consider Libertarians imbeciles. Replace X with "driving on the right side of the road (or left when in Britain)". . . . . . Still think the answer is "No"?

      • by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:30PM (#38227832) Homepage Journal

        Ayup. "Should not killing your neighbors be mandatory?"

        "Should not putting rats and rotting meat into hamburger that you're selling the unsuspecting public be mandatory?"

        Life is too complicated to put into a saying that is simple, short, and wrong, for all that the simplicity attracts imbeciles.

      • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @02:20PM (#38228904) Journal

        You don't understand LIBERTARIAN principles.

        Libertarians are not against rules. They are against rules that don't apply equally to all people equally. In this case, Libertarian policy would be offering discount/option for doing Green/Compostable for those that wish it. Additionally, since this is a health issue (Sanitation) there are rules that apply so that no harm comes to others.

        Making it mandatory that all people to use Compost Services using municipal service is wrong. What if I want to make my compost, you think charging me for that service should be mandatory?

    • by hercubus ( 755805 ) <hercubus AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:53PM (#38228370) Homepage

      For all non-negative values of X the answer is:


      In my perfect libertarian world, whoever gets to the intersection firstest with the mostest guns wins. Stopping or even slowing down would never be mandatory, unless you're one of those bitches driving a Prius.

      And shouting "Fire!" in that mythical crowded theatre is okay, but shouting "Firepower!" and following it up with a few rounds into the ceiling is even better.

  • Recycling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dexter Herbivore ( 1322345 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @12:52PM (#38227218) Journal
    So recycling is mandatory, but people in the US go without healthcare? No offense intended guys and gals in the US, but the priorities of your lawmakers seem a little skewed.
    • Re:Recycling (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:06PM (#38227440)

      There is an enormous difference, and you seemed to have utterly missed the point of contention in your attempt to simplify this down to "clearly X is more important to Y". Notably, there are questions as to the government's role, the Federal government's specific role as it relates to residents of a particular states, the authority of a local government, and whether it is an acceptable use of power to mandate a private good be purchased simply for being alive.

      You will note that this doesnt seem to be suggesting a federal mandate, which again would fall afoul of a number of really important principles.

      Listen, what happens to our planet in 500 years is really really important. What happens to our government in the next 20 is also really important, and if you start violating important principles of one (such as limitations of power and separation of local and federal power) for the other, Im not sure that you can call it a net win. A pristine planet in an orwellian society doesnt really appeal to me, and its why these battles are so important to fight.

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @12:57PM (#38227296) Homepage Journal

    Aside the fact much of this Green Waste will decompose over time, releasing hydrocarbons in the atmosphere, which could be harvested in a properly designed and maintained natural gas generating landfill, much of farm land is being depleted of minerals in topsoil, where this compost should be placed back.

    Mandatory? No, people should be doing this because it makes good business sense.

  • Comment removed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by account_deleted ( 4530225 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @12:58PM (#38227322)
    Comment removed based on user account deletion
    • by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:34PM (#38227904) Homepage Journal

      Trouble is that especially in lower-populated areas multiple cities' trash goes into one landfill. Arguably it should be at least a state-level decision.

      At this point nobody's saying there should be a federal mandate /anyway/, and with the Republicans doubling down on "LA LA LA YOU'RE NOT A RICH DONOR I CAN'T HEAR YOU" it's not likely to get anywhere in Congress.

  • by cob666 ( 656740 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @12:59PM (#38227330) Homepage
    The recycle rules in Nova Scotia are pretty strict, trash must be separated and almost all organic waste must be composted (the exception is animal fats because they attract animals). I travel up there frequently enough that it was initially a major pain in the ass but I've found myself more aware of the trash I generate. I try to buy things that have less packaging and also try to buy commonly used household items more in bulk.
  • by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:00PM (#38227346) Homepage

    I have been backyard composting for a while now. I put vegetable scraps in a small stainless steel bucket under my sink. When the bucket is full, I take it out (every four days or so) and dump it in the compost bin. My area also has curb side food scraps collection, which would be easy enough to use, but I prefer to compost myself, so that I can feed my garden each spring. Besides getting a nice garden, one of the main benefits has been that my garbage is much cleaner. In fact, besides a few bones, most of my garbage consists of unrecycleable plastic bags and containers. When I take my garbage out, it is a plastic bag full of plastic bags.

    The main work consists of turning the compost outside every once in a while (which wouldn't be necessary for curb side collection), and in cleaning the compost bucket under the sink, which is easy since it is stainless steel. The garbage bin is less stinky, which is nice, and I don't get the drippy bags of garbage that I used to get when I put food scraps in the regular garbage. In other words, I have found composting to be relatively easy, and I suspect most people would have a similar experience once they got started.

    • by dmatos ( 232892 )

      I actually use both a home composter _and_ my city's curbside food scraps collection (called the "green bin"). The reason is that the green bin will accept a much broader range of materials, because they are ground up and hot composted.

      All vegetable matter goes into my home composter, but bones, fat, tissues, paper towels, and pet waste go in the green bin. Between composting, green bin, and recycling, I'll sometimes go 3-4 weeks without bothering to take my garbage to the curb, because the bin just isn't

  • by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:01PM (#38227360)

    But if it makes financial sense to do it, they should offer service to pick it up for a cheaper rate than the service to take it to a landfill.

  • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:07PM (#38227460) Homepage

    I've never really understood the practice of bagging up your lawn clippings, or raking up your leaves and throwing them in bags as if it was all waste products to be disposed of. Mulching everything with a mulching lawnmower is less effort, better for your yard, and better for the city since it saves money in collection costs.

    Leaves in particular once ground up are wonderful soil amendments for a garden. They're not particularly high in nutrients, but when the leaves break down, they turn into hummus, which both retains moisture, and improves drainage.

    • by Ogive17 ( 691899 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:27PM (#38227770)
      Have you ever had a large oak tree in your yard? There's just no way of mulching all the leaves to the point it won't choke the lawn.

      Now I will mulch as much as I can but it still leaves me a huge pile of.. leaves.. that I put out in front of my house for the city to pick up.

      I agree with you on grass clippings, I've owned my home for 7 years and have never bagged any clippings (and I have one of the nicest looking lawns in the area).

      The nice thing about my town is that we have a separate dump/landfill for organic material. Any resident can take stuff there for free. The city will also collect leaves in November and branches throughout the year. They mulch it all up and take it to the dump. Local nurseries and lawnscaping businesses then pay the city for access to the compost/mulch that is created.
  • Yes. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:16PM (#38227594)

    Your rights end when you start crapping in my yard.

    So, yes.

    Industry dumping deadly chemicals, your Hummer, the crap that leads to the algee blooms in the ocean, all of it has a direct impact on me. And thus, yes, I and the rest of the world get to tell you to stop shitting in the nest.

  • by eepok ( 545733 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:32PM (#38227872) Homepage

    But it should be made SO EASY and the benefits made SO VISIBLE that peer pressure alone would compel people to participate.

    The same goes for recycling.

  • by cellocgw ( 617879 ) <> on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:35PM (#38227930) Journal

    IIRC some brand-new towns designed their sewer system and waste treatment plants to handle large quantities of food waste, and then required all houses to install dispose-alls in the sinks. (and banned dumping food waste into trash, I think). Dunno how successful they were, but I gotta say the concept is much neater, simpler, and more efficient than setting up a whole separate compostables pick-up system.

  • by Vegan Cyclist ( 1650427 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:45PM (#38228164) Homepage

    In the last year i've thrown out less than two grocery bags of trash. (And i'm not some hermit, i race bikes, buy various electronic gadgets, etc..)

    Composting is a HUGE way to reduce waste, and am glad my city (Victoria, BC) is finally getting curbside composting as well (Jan 2013.) The last few places i've lived in didn't compost, so i found a neighbour who did, and dropped off compost there instead.

    The next biggest step is to reduce consumption - avoid plastic bags and twist ties at the grocery store (i write the #'s on my hand), reuse baggies, etc (wash them!) Go with the bulk section of food stores to reduce packaging.

    And finally, recycling - don't just depend on what's picked up at your curb, look into other options. There's a program here called Pacific Mobile Depots, and they recycle nearly everything - styrofoam, electronics and appliances, soft plastic, hard plastic, even tetra paks and foil wrappers from energy bars, etc.. This one runs every Saturday, and sets up different drop off points around the community (my nearest is the 4th Saturday each month).

    When you take advantage of all the services that are available to you, it's pretty surprising just how much you can reduce your impact!

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @05:48PM (#38231778) Homepage

    I think people just don't understand what composting is. Education is necessary. Example:

    I just moved into a new neighborhood and everyone here has a small bit of land and trees. The houses are nearby to woods. I am shocked to find that everyone rakes their leaves and throws them away in the Monday yard waste pick-up. What are they doing!?!?!?!? Do people not realize that you are throwing away your soil when you do this? So one Sunday evening I got up and took all my neighbors nicely bagged leaves and composted them in the woods behind my house. My yard has trees, but it barely grows grass. The ground is clay about an inch below the surface. The tree roots are sticking up from the ground from years of losing topsoil. Some of the neighbors use Chemlawn. Why would you throw away your fertile soil, then pay someone to spray it with an artificial version? The only reason I can figure is that they just don't understand what they are doing.

    At least it doesn't go out with the trash. I think the county lets you get free bags of compost in the summer, so maybe the smart ones can at least get their own land back once they wise up.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling