Baltimore, MD

Scrappy Baltimore: Food Composting is Easy in the City

Susan Kelley

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Composting brown and white eggsCourtesy of Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

Did you know...food scraps make up 25 percent of the residential waste stream in Baltimore?

It's true, according to a recent study of residential trash conducted by the Less Waste, Better Baltimore planning team. Less Waste, Better Baltimore outlines a realistic future vision plan for the City’s solid waste recycling program and operations. In doing so, both near- and long-term solutions were sought to maximize waste reduction, reuse/repair, recycling, and sustainable management of materials. The pilot program has allowed residents to begin bringing their food scraps to several locations for composting.

Now, as we near summer's end, it is apparent that many citizens are taking advantage of the project as a convenient, free way to compost food scraps. Composting has long been a practice in more rural and suburban areas, but here in the city it has been more of a challenge. There's hardly anyone in the U.S. who hasn't equated Baltimore with rats (a dubious distinction, since nearly every port city has them, Baltimore is no exception). Urban areas typically struggle with composting for a variety of reasons.

Many Baltimore residents had already begun using innovative ways to compost, from community garden sites to tabletop composters now commercially available, to going as far as dropping off their food waste items with friendly neighbors in the suburbs for use. A program like this one, managed by the city, is not meant to replace other methods, but rather to partner with those. Many city community gardens make use of compost and composting bins on site. The Madeira St. garden in fact not only uses compost but has two beehives on site to aid with pollination. Adding composting drop off sites throughout the city should add to diminishing food waste and add to the overall effort to combat waste and climate change.

Citizens making use of the community composting bins are a good sign for city officials, who hope that the initiative will change how Baltimoreans think about their food waste overall. 

According to Baltimore DPW's website, the project is funded through a grant from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) as part of the Food Matters Regional Initiative. The partnership between the City and NRDC plans to develop additional projects to advance food waste prevention, food rescue, and composting. Each of these will help Baltimore become a greener, more eco-friendly city overall.

Kristyn Oldendorf, who leads the program at the city’s Department of Public Works, noted, “This is the first time we’ve done something like this on city-owned property,” adding that any effort to reduce waste is a benefit to the city. Madeline Keating, the chief strategist at NRDC, noted that this program cements Baltimore's ongoing commitment to reducing food waste and tackling climate change. As a major shipping port city with a strong connection to fresh waterways and the Atlantic Ocean, it is vital to the city to improve climate impact through initiatives like this one.

According to the city's website, the pilot program is scheduled to last for three to four months, depending on participation. There will be DPW Residential Drop-Off sites at several locations throughout the city. The sites are currently known for accepting bulk items, recycling, scrap metal, electronics, and more for waste management, so the transition to managing the added organic waste is nearly seamless. Hours and addresses for each site can be found on the DPW website: https://publicworks.baltimorecity.gov/solid-waste/drop-off. Materials that are acceptable at the compost sites will include fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, grains and bread, coffee grounds, and tea bags.

Initial efforts at food waste composting and collection efforts began in the summer of 2019 at Baltimore's City Farmer's Market. The city had a partnership with NRDC at that time as well.

A Maryland-based company called Compost Crew won the open bid for the services as the city's food scrap hauler. Compost Crew will collect the scrap material from each of the five drop-off centers and transport them to Prince George’s County Organics Composting Facility to be composted.

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Susan is a runner, avid traveler, mom of three grown children, and a newly-transplanted Baltimorean who follows tech trends, especially at the intersection of health and the public good. Sound intriguing? It is. Often, technology is at odds with the "earthy-crunchy," but sometimes, it is a real boost. Susan is an avowed supporter of women's and human rights, so that situates well here.

Baltimore, MD
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