Closing the Loop


Who is using compost? Who should be? Composting can be done on multiple levels: backyards, farms, local landscapes, local governments… Many cities on the east cost have limb and leaf removal, and consequently, create windrows for those piles to rest. Procurement, in this sense, means taking local sources for compostable organics and diverting them from landfills into local composting facilities so they create carbon-dioxide rather than methane — then that same compost is used in local landscapes, thus closing the loop on composting. Instead of municipalities buying mulch from external sources exclusively, they first use up the mulch resting in local composting facilities.


Everyone eventually ends up with that limp lettuce or yellowed stalk of celery at the bottom of the fridge crisper. And a lot of us end up throwing that waste either down the dispose-all, or into the garbage, when we should actually be saving it in a compost bin. In rural and suburban areas, it’s easy to start a compost bin outside and use the resulting compost in our gardens. But some of us don’t have the time or inclination for that. The answer? Compost collection is included just like garbage and recycling collection in many cities. This could probably work in your town too if it’s not already established.

Eating Establishments and Grocery Stores

Food stores, Rrestaurants and fast food dispensers generally have high amounts of food that doesn’t get eaten. Hamburgers that have sat, cooled off and dried out too long because there was a slump in expected numbers… A lot of it is just barely past the use-by time allowed by the establishment… Food that is no longer saleable, but still entirely edible should be diverted to food recovery programs.

Occasionally, there will be food that is no longer edible. Mayonnaise that separated and can’t be used… Cheese that shouldn’t have gone moldy… Rotten meat… All of that is compostable under the right circumstances. This should all be diverted to municipal composting facilities, or private enterprise operating under the aegis/guidance of the city using approved composting methods.

Leaf and Limb Pickup

Many cities have leaf and limb pickup on a regular basis. That obviously should be diverted to composting and mulch facilities. Cities could decide whether the mulch and compost derived from this system should go directly onto city landscapes first with any surplus going to citizens willing to purchase local mulch/compost, or vice versa.

How do we Close the Loop on Composting?

It could start with something as simple as local innovation or legislation. In my town, a couple small businesses have begun collecting compost from residents for a fee. We have also begun a pilot program for free compost bins at various locations throughout the city for everything including vegetables and even spoiled meats. Those compost bins are brought to a composting station run by the county. The resulting compost is tested, approved and sold to local citizens for use in their gardens. In some counties, compost collection bins are mandatory. The fee is paid directly to the city along with either landfill or water fees.

But that compost can’t just sit there. It has to be put back into the surrounding environment in order to close the loop. Requiring cities to actively procure and distribute the resulting compost from municipal composting facilities to municipal grounds where mulch and compost are appropriate, and selling the rest to avid gardening community members is a great start.