Local Commentary

Composting is Unsung Way to Declutter During Quarantine

By Curtis Schaeffer

In these unsettling times, it makes sense to focus on positive actions that occur around us. I am referring to the Falls Church Curbside Food Waste Program. Before touting this program and encouraging more FC residents to compost, let me cite some interesting facts from the March 9 New Yorker article, “Complete Trash — Composting could get us out of this mess.”

This timely article makes the case that composting is the most important type of recycling — far exceeding that of plastics, metal or paper. The reason is simple:

“Composting transforms raw organic waste into a hummus-like substance that enriches soil and enhances carbon capture. In landfills, starved of oxygen, decomposing organics release methane, a greenhouse gas whose warming effects in the long run are fifty-six times those of CO2.”

If that doesn’t get your attention, then try this on for size: “The United States has greater landfill emissions than any other country, the equivalent of thirty-seven million cars on the road each year.”

The purpose of this article is not to guilt trip the reader into taking action on this issue, but rather to educate and to get your attention and to possibly motivate you to do something that will have an immediate impact on our environment.

The City of Falls Church has been operating a curbside pickup compost program since 2017. It is the FIRST curbside waste program in the entire state of Virginia. Other municipalities have drop-off options and are implementing pilot programs but FC is truly a pioneer.

For the year 2019, this program diverted 162 tons of waste from the landfill. We know that our landfills are increasingly limited and organic waste comprises 25 percent of all the waste inside an average Falls Church resident’s trash cart.

So what’s in it for me? Composting sounds like a good idea but are there incentives?

Frankly, contributing to a healthier environment should be incentive enough, but keep in mind that the $6 a month FC program fee for curbside pickup compares quite favorably with other municipalities across the country that charge as much as $30-35 monthly.

There are three ways to compost in Falls Church:

  1. Do it in your own yard: You can Google plenty of how-to approaches and local nurseries can be of help. You can reduce your trash each week and generate rich compost for your garden. The City offers free workshops on how to compost at home.
  2. Drop-Off Station: The City maintains a 24/7 Food Waste Drop-Off Station located beside the Tennis Courts behind the Community Center (223 Little Falls St). The bins are available to anyone who lives or works in Falls Church. Drop-off is free.
  3. Curbside Food Waste Collection: This is a voluntary, fee-based service open to any City of Falls Church resident receiving curbside solid waste services. The City contracts with the Compost Crew to manage the program, which consists of weekly (Wednesday) pick-ups of food scraps and other organic matter.

According to Lonnie Marquetti who works for the City of Falls Church recycling program, a resident can join the curbside program via email by paying a $10 sign-up fee. This provides the new participant with 6 months free pickups (cost is $6 a month after that), a free eight gallon container, and a free kitchen caddy with a pack of compostable liners.

I am a Falls Church resident and have participated in the curbside program for two years. Once you get into the rhythm of using your kitchen caddy while preparing a meal and for post meal waste, you will be amazed at how little trash you actually generate each week.

If you’re still not convinced, remember that composting enriches soil while helping retain moisture and suppresses plant diseases and pests. It also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. And finally, composting encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create a rich nutrient-filled material.

The Falls Church Curbside Food Waste Program has 631 households participating which is 20 percent of the total 3,043 FC households. There is an active group of residents who drop their food waste in the bins next to the Community Center and another smaller group that recycles on their own property. The City is to be commended for launching and sustaining this important initiative and for demonstrating to other municipalities across the State of Virginia the effectiveness of a curbside program coupled with a drop-off option and home recycling of food waste.

If you don’t recycle your food waste, take some time during this Covid-19 respite to consider introducing your household to it. It’s easy and it makes a difference!

Curtis Schaeffer is a resident of the City of Falls Church