With recycling costs spiraling out of control, Boston councilor says it's finally time to try city curbside composting

As he does pretty much every year, City Councilor Matt O'Malley (West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain) has formally asked the city to begin a pilot program to collect people's discarded coffee grounds and other foods to turn into compost. But this year is different, because the costs of dealing with recyclable materials is going through the roof, O'Malley says.

The council agreed this week, as it has the five other times since 2010 that O'Malley has proposed the idea, to have a committee look at creating a way for residents to put their slops at the curb for pickup and delivery to a city facility that would turn the stuff into rich organic material suitable for use in city parks - or by residents with gardens. A private company in Jamaica Plain, Bootstrap Compost has run curbside pickup since 2011.

O'Malley said that Cambridge reduced its trash tonnage by 8% just in the first year of a pilot composting program. And if nothing else, O'Malley said, even conservatives should like the idea because it has the potential to save the city fairly sizeable amounts of money, by keeping the stuff out of the garbage for which the city now pays roughly $86 a ton to dispose of in landfills.

He added that although Mayor Walsh remains committed to the city's recycling program, curbside composting would help ease the pain of rapidly escalating recycling costs. Recycling, which once earned the city about $5 a ton now costs it at least as much if not more as trash disposal.

Under O'Malley's proposal, the city would pick a neighborhood to serve as the pilot area for collection of kitchen wastes, which would go to a city "anaerobic digester" for bacteria to munch and turn into compost.

Thinking big, O'Malley said that eventually the idea could turn into a profit center for the city, if it built an anaerobic digester large enough to handle not just Boston's organic waste but that of surrounding towns.

Also this week, the council approved, by a 9-3 vote, a resolution, by Councilor Michelle Wu (at large), to support national efforts for a Green New Deal to pour money into technologies to try to reduce climate change and economic inequalities.

"The climate crisis is here now, we see it in Boston every year," she said. Councilor Kim Janey (Roxbury) agreed. "We are destroying our planet," she said. "All the other things we're talking about, affordable housing, education, supporting workers, none of this matters if we destroy our planet."

Councilors Althea Garrison (at large), Frank Baker (Dorchester) and Mark Ciommo (Allston/Brighton) voted against the resolution.

Garrison cited an ad she heard on the radio. "Stop the green, cut the prescription drugs for elderly and that is the reason I cannot support this particular legislation." She did not elaborate. Baker and Ciommo did not explain their votes.

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Comments

Wait...

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Recycling now actually costs the city? What happened? Have the economics behind recycling changed so much that what once netted the city $5/ton, now costs the city that much? Is that right??

more yep

The price depends on the price they get for selling the processed recyclables. (plus the cost of throwing away trash that ends up in recyclables)

As usual, the city wants to add stuff instead of enforcing

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They could reduce the amount of stuff in the landfills by consistently ticketing people who throw recyclables away.

And no, I don't mean they need to be going around sorting through people's trash. But I can walk down my street every collection day and see people who have out trash bins/bags but no recycling bin ever, and whose trash bins are obviously full of recyclable material. Start issuing warnings that recyclables go in the recycling.

FWIW, my family is not holy-shit meticulous about waste even, but our volume of recyclables is consistently much much bigger than our trash. It's single-stream recycling; it's super easy to just put recyclables into the recycling bin in our house.

The city could also do what many cities have done and not pick up things like usable furniture. Or charge for their removal. Seriously, why TF do people put all these usable items out for the trash instead of donating them or posting them for free? There are a bunch of people on various community forums looking for furniture for people who just got housing and whatnot.

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and

Most people are recycling wrong - throwing things in the bin that cannot be recycled, as well as not washing out things before putting them into the bin.

The town I used to live in

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The town I used to live in would not take your trash unless you had recycling out as well, and that was weekly.
One neighbor started recycling after noticing his trash wasn't picked up.

Single stream, so easy.

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Sinlge Stream

Single stream is exactly why China stopped taking our recyclables. China has no trees for fiber packaging so they wanted our paper and cardboard, there was some aluminum recycling too. But Single Stream resulted in lower quality paper and China stoppped taking it. Also, China dumped everything else into their own landfills. Single Stream has been a disaster.

Poultice

I wold be very concerned that the homeless and the opiod addicts in the city would combine the free sun screen Mr. O'malley provides with the coffee grounds to produce a poultice to relieve tension and pressure from having to read about what the City councilors are up to. Then we would have a very unhygienic, non-FDA approved ointment endangering them and lying on our city streets, which would be unhealthy and spoil the beautiful character of the city and leave coffee grounds everywhere.

#healthypoultice

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Funny but misguided

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Food decomposes no matter where its thrown. When it is thrown in with landfill trash the food decomposes creating methane. Lots of methane is not good. So the funny but foolish sarcasm aside, city wide composting decreases the methane generated, it reduces how much space is needed in a landfill and it provides a valuable resource, namely compost.

For a gardener compost is liquid gold.

I fail to understand how

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I fail to understand how recycling costs are related to composting.

If recycling costs are too high, then if anything, the councilor could push for less single stream recycling, especially in less dense neighborhoods that has more room to separate recyclables. China stopped accepting junky single stream mixes. That's what made it economically practical in the first place.

The councilor could also lead a push to repeal the bottle bill, which makes recycling more expensive, by removing valuable aluminum cans from the recycling stream.

Sorry if I was unclear

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You're right: Composting won't reduce recycling costs at all.

But recycling is part of the city's overall waste-removal budget, along with trash pickup. If O'Malley is right, the city could reduce that overall waste-removal budget by reducing the amount of stuff the city garbage contractor now hauls away.

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Completely wrong

...could also lead a push to repeal the bottle bill, which makes recycling more expensive, by removing valuable aluminum cans from the recycling stream.

The bottle bill should be expanded to include water bottles, which make up a measurable part of recycling (and significant litter).

As for aluminum, I have seen the recycling guy reject all-aluminum cooking pans. They aren't actually interested in the metal.

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City recycling rules

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City recycling rules typically say no metal objects other than cans. Probably because the machinery needs to crush it.

Scrap metal recycling for your pans is available, but not curbside.

Completely not wrong

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Bottle Bills were passed in the 70s and 80s to fight littering, not to promote recycling.

Now that most of Massachusetts has curbside recycling, and because littering is not what it was in the 1950s (remember the picnic scene from Mad Men?), it makes less sense to have a bottle bill. Returning bottles and cans for deposit requires a lot of overhead compared to curbside pickup.

As for littering, the bottle bill makes littering in Boston worse, when you look at the how much trash gets strewn by pickers ripping open up trash bags looking for deposit containers.

The state with the highest *overall* recycling rate is New Jersey, a state which never had a bottle deposit. That is what Massachusetts needs to aspire to. The time for the bottle bill has come and gone.

Still wrong

Bottle bills produce near-100% recycling rates for the containers included. Littering is not what it was in the '50s in large part because of the Bottle Bill. I remember when almost all beer & soda cans were reusable, and kids could be relied on to pick them up for the nickle or dime deposit. The introduction of throwaway bottles and cans produced an explosion of litter, which you apparently only experienced through a TV show. One of the major components of litter today is water bottles, because they are not included in the Bottle Bill. Making either the producers or the users of containers responsible for their waste is effective and sensible.

Can-hunters making a mess is a policing problem. Other communities have eliminated it by treating it as such.

I was going to post the same

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I was going to post the same thing.

And if people can't figure out the single stream rules, how the heck would they figure out composting?

Composting doesn't save money -- it costs money. It's supposed to be worth it for the environmental benefit. But is it?

Cambridge couldn't find a composting facility to take their volume and quality of compostables. So what do they do? They truck it to Andover, grind it up, and flush it down the sewer.

How would Boston handle several times the volume?

I think Cambridge should drop the program, and go back to encouraging backyard and kitchen composting.

Maybe the average individual is an idiot

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But taking a moment to learn is not hard. Learn what? Learn 1) other city's have composting programs such as San Francisco. So it can be done. 2) Any fruit or vegetable matter can be composted. If the composting is successful then even seeds can be composted since the composting creates heat that kill the life in the seeds.

Of course there are folks who don't care, don't want to know (a person has to wonder how they manage to live for any time as adult). But like recycling as a city we can only do the best possible. Not perfect, but better than nothing.

People don’t properly sort

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People don’t properly sort items now, you think they’ll walk down the street to the “neighborhood receptacle”. I’m amazed at how many people “recycle” styrofoam. We have a long way to go.

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THIS

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THIS x100000000000

We need to do this. It works very well in Europe. VERY well. No more 'trash days'

My only fear is shady enterprise would use it to dump toxic waste or things that aren't household trash.

How would there be no more

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How would there be no more trash days?

There would still be a day when the truck comes.

The neighborhood dumpster and its smells would be out on the street every day.

What is the reason?

Recycling, which once earned the city about $5 a ton now costs it at least as much if not more as trash disposal.

Why is recycling no longer profitable? What has changed?

Basically, municipalities (or

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Basically, municipalities (or private companies contracted to municipalities) collect recycling curbside, and compact it in trucks, which then bring it to a recycling center. From the recycling center it is then filtered into different materials, and sold to companies, usually overseas, who reprocess it into new things.

With widespread adoption of single-stream recycling, the rate of recyclables being contaminated by non-recyclable materials has skyrocketed, as has the total quantity of recyclables on the market. This means that the companies buying recyclables can be a lot more selective about what they buy, and have raised the standards for material purity. If the recycling center can't find a buyer because the materials aren't pure enough, it ends up in a landfill, which costs money (instead of selling it and making money).

Some places have begun switching away from single-stream recycling as an approach to remedying this problem. The materials will be more pure and thus fetch a higher price on the market if they're not all combined together first (e.g. broken glass shards from being compacted won't be in everything, paper won't have gotten wet from all the not-fully-empty bottles and cans). There's also some evidence that single-stream recycling leads to overconfidence about what can actually be recycled, and encourages people to toss in things that can't, thinking that someone is sorting it anyway so whatever item will get removed if it's not recyclable. Spoiler alert - it won't, because it will have already gotten compacted together with everything else. We can help as individuals by being more picky about what we actually recycle, but the problem goes far beyond that, and even if everything we put out is actually recyclable, that still doesn't mean it necessarily will be recycled.

In short, we recycle so much that a lot of what we recycle is no longer cost-effective to actually recycle, and ends up in landfills at cost, rather than sold.

Disclaimer: I am basing most of this on a fascinating article I read recently about how the percentage of waste that actually gets recycled in the US is down lately, despite recycling rates being up. Some or all of it may be incorrect or not applicable everywhere.

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Facts

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DTP, let's not confuse people with facts..

Pungent

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I'm sure it'll smell lovely in the warm summer months.

The greenies can't get their stories straight. I remember back in the 1990s when methane harvesting from landfills was all the rage in the media.

Since they're now falling over themselves to push composting...one assumes that the former idea wasn't the cure-all it was cracked up to be. Which leads me to assume that this composting nonsense is more of the same.

Man alters his environment. Be at peace with that.

So predictable

"The greenies" (First, denigrate people who are trying to improve things.)
"the cure-all it was cracked up to be" (It wasn't.)
"they're now falling over themselves" (They aren't.)
"Which leads me to assume" (As always, no actual knowledge involved.)
"Be at peace with that." (You should think this way.)

A tiresome little troll.

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Writing out of ignorance does not elevate one's reputation

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I have composted. Properly maintained composting does not generate unpleasant smells.

As for harvesting methane it's worth mentioning that a smart society tries every approach possible to finding a solution. Usually most approaches will fail. What makes the effort worthwhile is that each strategy for addressing a problem which works is a success that obviously solves the problem.

It's obvious you know little about composting. Instead of practicing ignorance try learning a little about composting.

You say man alters his environment. Hope you are at peace with the environment altering humankind. Especially in the form of mass deaths:

Bacterial infections which can not be cured.
Now fungal infections which can not be cured.
Hurricanes that are making some places no longer habitable for humankind.

I respect life; that means I have a moral obligation to respect what gives us life: our environment. To be at peace with wanton destruction of what keeps us alive? That's comparable to saying that people will cause harm to others. So instead of wasting money on police just be at peace with the fact that some people will harm others no matter what.

Is that a bad thing?

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There's upside to having a leader who proposes things that are already tested and debugged by other cities. We're not in a race to be "first" to try everything.

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What is wrong with Frank?

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I knew Frank from many years ago. A good guy; I thought level headed. What has turned him into a man who just keeps saying No, No, No? I'm disappointed in him.

Why anaerobic?

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Aerobic composting is faster. Anaerobic composting can generate noxious smells and takes longer. Are their advantages of anaerobic versus aerobic? Creating volatile gasses is one possible reason from what I've read. Burning the gas could create heat.