Baltimore residents can now bring their food scraps to compost bins at each of the city’s five Department of Public Works citizen drop-off sites as part of a new pilot program expanding composting options across the city.
Fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, grains and bread, coffee grounds and tea bags will be accepted at the bins, officials said.
The city launched the pilot program July 12, and officials will assess interest and usage in composting over the next several months, as well as make sure the waste deposited in the bins are accepted materials.
“Anyone can come during operating hours and drop their food scraps into the bin, and then they will be taken to a compost facility to be processed,” said the department’s chief of support services Kristyn Oldendorf.
The program is funded by a grant agreement with the Natural Resources Defense Council, according to Oldendorf. The limited funding allows the city to assess the program and make future recommendations about citywide composting.
“For the last couple of years, we’ve had food scrap drop offs at two of the city’s farmers markets,” she said. “That’s been pretty successful. We saw people liked the ability to drop off their food scraps and know they were going to a good use. The drop off centers seemed like a good fit (to expand the program).”
The locations and hours of the five drop-off centers are:
- Quarantine Rd. Sanitary Landfill- Citizens’ Convenience Drop-off, 6100 Quarantine Road, drop off hours: Mon. – Sat., 9 a.m .– 5 p.m.
- Western Sanitation Yard, 701 Reedbird Avenue, drop off hours: Mon. – Sat., 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
- Eastern Sanitation Yard, 6101 Bowleys Lane, drop off hours: Mon. – Sat., 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
- Sisson Street Drop-Off Center, 2840 Sisson Street, drop off hours: Mon. – Sat., 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
- Northwest Transfer Station, 5030 Reisterstown Road, drop off hours: Mon. – Sat., 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
The composting pilot is part of the city’s “Less Waste, Better Baltimore” plan. Between 20 and 25 percent of all waste in the system is food waste, according to officials, meaning nearly a quarter of all material could have been “rescued” for better use.
“Developing new and innovative programs to increase waste diversion is a top priority for Mayor Scott and the Department of Public Works,” new Public Works Director Jason Mitchell said in a statement.
Mitchell previously served as an assistant city administrator in Oakland, Calif. assisting the city with implementing its own Zero Waste initiative. Mitchell started in Baltimore in May.
The city contracted with Compost Crew, a Maryland-based food scrap recycling company to pick up the materials at the drop-off centers and truck it to a Prince George’s County compost facility. The facility will then process the waste into compost and bag it for use and sale.
Raising awareness about food waste and composting is a good first step, but it’s not enough, according to environmental justice advocates in Baltimore.
“Baltimore needs to develop its own compost infrastructure,” said Greg Sawtell of the South Baltimore Community Land Trust. “Unless we have that, we are going to have a limited ability to compost at scale.”
Sawtell commended Mitchell’s efforts on reducing waste, but the Curtis Bay resident said communities like his have long suffered from pollution as a result of the city’s reliance on landfill and incineration.
The South Baltimore Community Land Trust is working with other community organizations and leaders on efforts to push Baltimore towards zero waste.
“This is good,” Sawtell said of the pilot. “Let’s take it a step forward to start the process to develop infrastructure to do this in Baltimore.”
Oldendorf says officials hope the pilot program will create interest and awareness for residents, but Baltimore isn’t yet ready for its own processing facility.
“While ideally we’d like to have a location in the city,” she said. “Even if we could overnight build a compost facility in the city, I don’t know how successful that would be if people hadn’t really thought about diverting compost.”
Sawtell says advocates are calling for a “both and” approach, suggesting that because developing infrastructure takes years, the city should prioritize getting efforts off the ground here in Baltimore.
Marvin Hayes is the program manager at the Baltimore Compost Collective, a composting operation that works with local youth to collect and process compost in South Baltimore.
“I am very excited about the drop-off (pilot), so compost is accessible to everybody,” he said, adding that companies like his charge a fee to pick up materials from customers. “This makes it easy to make the choice to divert waste from going into the incinerators and landfill.”
Hayes says that he hopes city officials make future considerations to keep collection and processing local and provide economic development opportunities for communities in Baltimore hit hardest by the environmental impacts of landfill and incineration.
Hayes pointed to his Baltimore Compost Collective as a small-scale enterprise that hires locally, pays living wages and provides opportunities for area youth.
“We want to starve the incinerator, and feed the soul and feed the community,” he said.
The compost processed by the Baltimore Compost Collective is used at the Filbert Street Community Garden, what Hayes described as ‘Wakanda’ in the middle of a food desert, referring to the fictional African country in the Marvel cinematic universe.
“Except we don’t produce vibranium,” he said, “we make beautiful, black gold.”