D.C. takes a small step toward municipal composting

April 25, 2013

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) with Bruce Bates of Bates Environmental, on of three contractors hauling food waste to a city facility. (Lateef Mangum/Office of the Mayor)

In slightly belated observance of Earth Day, Mayor Vincent C. Gray sought Wednesday to highlight progress his administration has made on his sweeping “Sustainable D.C.” strategy. Among the most intriguing initiatives: A small step toward a municipal composting program.

Since April 1, the Department of Public Works has accepted 177 tons of compostable waste at its Benning Road transfer station. But don’t haul your personal leftovers there just yet: The facility is only accepting non-meat food waste from three commercial haulers who serve restaurants, hotels and grocery stores, said DPW spokeswoman Linda Grant.

In other words, the city is a long way from offering curbside compost pickup such as what now exists in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, meaning Gray can’t yet check off his goal of “provid[ing] all households with a three-track waste collection process” — let alone the ambitious “zero waste” goal for 2032.

Also, Grant said, the actual composting isn’t being done on Benning Road, or anywhere else in the District. Rather, the city has a contract with Urban Service Systems Corp. to haul the waste to a Richmond-area operation that sells the finished compost rather than giving it back to the city to use.

But it is a small step toward a laudable goal. The question is whether the city can scale up the current operation, estimated at 60 to 100 tons weekly, to the 600 tons a day currently collected in San Francisco.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | April 25, 2013