“It’s taking some getting used to,” Vitullo, 57, said of Takoma Park’s tentative foray into curbside compost collection. The biggest challenge? Overriding decades of kitchen muscle memory. “The first week, it’s been a two-part process. First I throw the food in the trash, and then I remember, take it out and throw it in the compost bin.”
Vitullo’s is one of more than 300 households taking part in Takoma Park’s six-month volunteer pilot program, one of the region’s early experiments in the municipal pickup of residential food waste. The effort is just getting started, but Vitullo’s experience in curbside composting is likely to be shared by homeowners across the region in coming years.
“Within five or 10 years, setting food scraps out on the curb for composting is going to be the norm, just like curbside recycling is now,” said Brenda Platt, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a District-based environmental group.
Composting food waste has long been popular with backyard gardeners and zero-waste enthusiasts. Supermarkets and restaurants also ship scraps to commercial composting yards.
But now composting is coming to the kitchens of ordinary families. An increasing number of curbside pickup programs are forming the third wave of household waste handling, with food-scrap containers assuming their place next to trash and recycling bins on more and more sidewalks. More than 160 municipalities pick up separated organic trash, including green trendsetters San Francisco, Seattle and Austin.
In this area, University Park collects food waste from 150 houses and trucks it to a U.S. Department of Agriculture composting station in Beltsville. Howard County has signed up more than 1,000 families around Ellicott City and Elkridge and is planning to build its own composting facility.
Takoma Park officials have been hearing for years from citizens eager to separate their bread crusts and apple cores for sanitation workers. Last month, the city announced a $10,000 trial program in two neighborhoods. Officials hope to expand the collection citywide in coming years.
“We’ve been wanting to do it for a while,” said Daryl Braithwaite, Takoma Park’s director of public works. “When my sister came down to visit from British Columbia, she’s like, ‘Wait, you don’t have food waste pickup?’ ”
The holdup wasn’t with picking up the scraps, Braithwaite said, but in finding a place to drop them off.
“That’s been the real choke point; there aren’t sufficient facilities nearby that can process food into compost,” said John Snarr, an environmental planner at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.