Alexandria has started a curbside composting program that it hopes will help residents live greener and help the Northern Virginia city make strides in its long-term goal of making the city’s waste management more sustainable.
“The food waste will go to a local compost facility processing facility where they will process that into compost soil,” says Helen Lee, the environmental program manager with the Department of Transportation and Energy Services.
“It’s a really rich soil amendment that you can apply to local gardens and beds, your home garden as well,” she says.
Registration is now open for some eligible residents to have their compost picked up curbside.
This pilot program, funded through a USDA Composting and Food Waste Reduction Cooperative Agreement, will provide six months of free curbside compost service for up to 2,000 residents per year for two years.
Residents who currently receive trash pickup through the city can sign up on the city’s website to receive the service. They will receive a starter kit with a seven-gallon bin and compostable bags for the free weekly pickups. After the first six months, residents can opt out or continue and pay $21 per month or $231 per year.
Participants simply place compostable materials like food scraps in the bins. The Compost Crew, an organics recycling company, will collect them, but it may not be on the same day as their regular trash pickup. It’s just like getting trash picked up, with one key difference: Rather than heading to a landfill, they’ll be processed and turned into useful compost soil.
Participants can sign up to get one bag of completed compost soil delivered back to them per year. The city will partner with local community gardens to provide them with compost, Lee says.
This program is in addition to the existing free composting stations at six Alexandria farmers markets.
Composting is just one piece in the puzzle of Alexandria’s goals for sustainable waste management. In 2019, the city laid out a 20-year strategic plan called WasteSmart, which aims to “ensure the City’s solid waste management program remains safe, effective, efficient, and environmentally sound in the coming decades.”
“We set out pretty bold initiatives on how we can sustainably recover resources, and it has different chapters of education, outreach, reduce and reuse, recycling, and of course organics, which is where some of the composting goals and action items come from,” Lee says.
In tandem with the composting programs, the city will lead a food waste reduction outreach campaign to educate people on the ways they can cut back on the amount of food that gets thrown away. On Monday, April 17, Alexandria will host a food waste reduction workshop virtually.
“We are trying to encourage ways to reduce food waste all across the board,” Helen Lee says.
“Composting is sort of the final step in waste diversion when it comes to food, but we can start at the top with source reduction,” says Howard Lee, the department’s recycling program analyst. “So the workshop will provide tips on how we can store food better, keep food fresher for longer, prep meals earlier, save money and sort of reduce waste from that.”
Other city initiatives to reduce waste include a five-cent tax on single-use plastic bags, which went in effect on January 1, 2022, and a separate glass recycling program.
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