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Composting Is Key to New Business Sector and Green Jobs, Says New Report
WASHINGTON - May 8 - Composting is a major job creator, according to a new report released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC, in conjunction with International Compost Awareness Week. According to the report, Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs, & Protect the Bay, 1,400 new full-time jobs could be supported for every million tons of yard trimmings and food scraps converted into compost that is used locally.
Collectively, these jobs could pay wages ranging from $23 million to $57 million.
With compostable materials making up almost half of what Americans set out at the curb, this is good news for communities seeking to balance environmental concerns with the need to create good jobs. “When sent to a landfill or trash incinerator, banana peels, broccoli stalks, and other leftover food scraps are a liability. But when composted, they are a valuable asset,” stated Brenda Platt, lead author of Pay Dirt and director of ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e project.
Based on a survey of Maryland composters, Pay Dirt found that, on a per-ton basis, composting sustains twice as many jobs as landfilling and four times the number of jobs as burning garbage. On a dollar-per-capital-investment basis, the number of jobs supported by composting versus disposal options was even more striking: 3 times more than landfills, and 17 times more than incinerators. Many of these jobs are skilled jobs such as equipment operators, with typical wages in the $16 to $20 per hour range.
Compost is a dark, crumbly earthy-smelling material produced by the natural decomposition of organic materials. It is a valuable soil conditioner with many applications – agricultural, landscaping, wetlands creation, sediment control, to name a few. When added to soil, compost adds needed organic matter, sequesters carbon, improves plant growth, conserves water, and reduces reliance on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. ILSR’s companion paper, also released today, Building Healthy Soils with Compost to Protect Watersheds, details how compost use can reduce watershed contamination from urban pollutants by an astounding 60 to 95 percent. Because compost can hold 20 times its weight in water and acts like a filter and sponge, it can reduce soil erosion and prevent stormwater run-off, huge issues impacting the Chesapeake Bay and other impaired watersheds in the United States.
Markets for compost are growing thanks to the expansion of sustainable practices associated with green infrastructure such as green roofs, rain gardens, and low-impact development. “For every 10,000 tons per year of compost used for green infrastructure, we found that another 18 jobs could be supported,” says Platt, who adds that “Support for composting equals support for a made-in-America industrial sector.”
“We have to stay focused on both job creation and protecting the environment. Composting marries the two perfectly,” said Delegate Heather Mizeur (District 20). “We’ll continue to reduce regulatory burdens and confusion so businesses know their composting operations are engines of the green economy and are welcomed here in Maryland.” Mizeur sponsored successful composting legislation in 2011 and 2013 allowing state agencies to update permitting regulations and make recommendations on how to improve composting in the state.
In Maryland, like much of the country, there is insufficient capacity to compost all the food scraps discarded in the state. In ILSR’s survey of Maryland composters, regulations and permitting were the most frequently cited challenges to facilities’ financial viability and their challenges for expansion. Another reason is the State’s embrace of trash incineration and State policy that provides renewable energy credits to incineration, a technology that requires wasting and waste, thus competing with the development of non-burn options like composting. Pay Dirt recommends policy changes to encourage a diverse and in-state composting infrastructure in order to maximize job creation and community benefits.
Several small-scale food scrap composting operations have opened in the last 3 years, demonstrating the viability of locally-based systems: ECO City Farms, an urban farm in Edmonston; Chesapeake Compost Works, a private enterprise in Curtis Bay, Baltimore; and a Howard County government site to process material from a residential pilot. According to Vinnie Bevivino, owner of Chesapeake Compost Works, "Organic waste like food scraps should be processed as local as possible." He adds, "Not only does this keep the jobs and fertile soil in the community, it also greatly reduces the carbon footprint of transportation."
Pay Dirt calls for a moratorium on building new trash incinerators while new regulations and support for composting are put in place. By doing this, Platt contends that “our communities will benefit from cleaner air, more jobs, enhanced soil quality, healthier watersheds, and more resilient economies.”