Greenlaurel: Easy Composting Ideas that Reduce Trash and Air Pollution

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Compost Cab will pick up your food scraps weekly for about $1 a day.

Food waste is the no. 1 material in your trash can, and accounts for about 22 percent of municipal trash. Luckily there some easy options that can turn your food trash into garden treasure, whether it comes from a household or business.

Why care? Most likely, your trash gets burned at the big BRESCO incinerator next to Interstate 95, which also happens to be Baltimore City’s top source of air pollution. Not only could you help make some good garden fertilizer, but composting can reduce your household trash, which reduces our air pollution.

What is composting? 

Composting takes nature’s organic material recycling process and speeds it up. When organic material decomposes in a compost bin or pile, it turns into a dark brown soil known as humus. Compost makes for an amazing garden fertilizer. Yard waste, plant materials and food scraps (though no meat, fats or oils) can all be composted.

“To-Go” Composting 

Don’t have the space to compost? Looking for convenience? Consider Compost Cab or Compost Crew. Both offer weekly food-scrap collection for about $1 per day, or $8 per week. Customers store food scraps in an air tight bin and it outside for weekly pickups. Collected food scraps are sent to an offsite commercial composting facility. I’ve heard positive user feedback about both services.

Backyard Composting

University of Maryland’s Extension Program’s excellent and easy-to-understand composting online education will help you on your way to generating your own “garden gold.” I’ve found that many “How to Compost” books and articles inadvertently market composting as complicated. In reality, I’ve learned at-home composting is pretty easy.

I’m at best a C+-grade composter, but my 6-year-old Baltimore City compost bin continues to crank out compost year round with minimal effort on my part. I purchased a plastic bin that’s open to the ground. I threw in a bunch of leaves, coffee grounds, food scraps and some starter pellets, which are really just a shot of nitrogen to speed up the composting. I rarely turn the stuff inside and I never water. I keep the bin’s lid tight so critters don’t visit. (Apparently there was a happy raccoon for a few weeks.)

For all you experienced composters out there, feel free to share your expertise in the comments section below.

Composting Parties

Baltimore’s Church of the Redeemer hosted a zero-waste picnic. Guests used biodegradable party ware, and the waste was picked up by an offsite composting service.

If you’re interested in hosting a trash-free event, consider calling Veteran Compost or Compost Cab to pickup your event’s food and party trash. It’s easy to find biodegradable plates, cups, napkins and cutlery priced on-par with disposables and plastics. Your event’s biodegradable trash will be collected by the composting firm and then delivered to a commercial facility. Commercial compost piles burn at high heat and actually break down those “green” corn resin cups and even meat scraps. Schools and businesses can also partner with these firms to set up composting services.

Burning Trash Increases Unhealthy Air Pollution

Did you know that most of Baltimore City’s trash is burned at that big white BRESCO building located at Interstates 95 and 395?

The BRESCO plant, built in 1985, was touted as a “green idea” to turn trash into electricity. Today in Maryland, incinerators are considered renewable energy. BRESCO’s owners earn millions each year in renewable energy credit cash.

The issue with the BRESCO is that the plant is old, and so are its pollution controls.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), along with a coalition of community and green groups, is focused on a certain BRESCO pollutant: nitrogen oxide, affectionately known as NOx. When baked in the hot summer sun, this odorless chemical is brewed into unhealthy ground-level ozone. The list of diseases caused by this air pollution only continues to grow.

In an effort to improve air quality, MDE recently released a draft NOx level that’s in line with neighboring states at 150 parts per million (ppm). BRESCO had asked for 170 ppm NOx levels, citing the plant’s older condition that makes it difficult to retrofit.

Leah Kelly, an attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project, reported that BRESCO’s 24-hour NOx average in 2016 was 169 nitrogen oxide ppm. Just how high is that? For comparison, Montgomery County’s newer Covanta facility averaged just 89 ppm NOx in 2015 — about half of BRESCO NOx levels.

You’ll be hearing more about BRESCO in the future because the Free Your Voice youth organization from Curtis Bay is leading the charge to tackle the plant’s air pollution. Free Your Voice is the same team that stopped Energy Answers from building what would have been the country’s largest incinerator in Curtis Bay. This afternoon, the Baltimore City Council is holding a hearing about BRESCO issues.

According to the Maryland Department of the Environment chart below, BRESCO (which is owned by Wheelabrator) is our state’s fifth largest NOx polluter.

BRESCO can power up to 40,000 homes, but still emits higher level of nitrogen oxide than larger power plants.

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