Anti-Composting Sentiment Must Be Listened To, Not Dismissed

Jacob Levine/CC BY-SA 2.0

Composting may get you high, but large-scale composting can also raise peoples' hackles. From large trucks moving around biomass; through odor and air-quality issues; to the fire hazard of compost heaps that overheat (yes, really!), there are a long list of concerns that residents often have when a composting facility is proposed nearby.

It's all too easy to dismiss such concerns as NIMBYism—as I did in my headline about small-scale composters circumventing NIMBYs—but any sane and successful approach to sustainability must take into account community well-being and consent.

Writing over at Newsday, Adrienne Esposito and Rob Deshler discuss what they call the dark side of composting:

Composting usually invokes images of doing something positive for the Earth; reducing, reusing and recycling all wrapped up together. After all, it turns waste into a resource we need. But there's also a dark side to this expanding industry. When not properly regulated, large-scale composting and transfer stations are downright damaging to surrounding communities. Potent odors, dust, truck traffic, groundwater contamination, fires caused by spontaneous combustion and equipment noise are serious problems plaguing many communities.

Time and again, residents near Long Island Compost, a business in Yaphank, have reported eye-watering odors that prevent them from going outside or opening windows. Blowing dust forces them to use windshield wipers when driving. After 11 years of documented concerns, Brookhaven residents desperately sought relief. Last year, a diverse group -- including the Brookhaven Fire Department, South Country Central School District, South Country Ambulance, the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and other civic organizations and business owners -- formed the Brookhaven Community Coalition to address public health and environmental concerns from the Brookhaven landfill and from Long Island Compost.

It's important to note that neither Deshler nor Esposito is arguing against composting. So it is equally important that the environmental movement does not dismiss such concerns out-of-hand. Instead, we must learn from objections that are raised, and we must seek paths that both cut our organic waste problem and offer viable, sustainable and minimally disruptive methods of disposal/recycling. That may or may not include open composting in the long run, but if it does that composting must be carefully regulated to follow best practices.

From small-scale compost entrepreneurs through large-scale closed composters and ramping up backyard composting to cutting back on food waste in the first place, we are not short of options.

Let's not allow the composting revolution underway to get painted into the bigger-is-always-better approach that has blighted so many other human endeavors.

Tags: Activism | Communities | Composting | United States

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