More New Jerseyans Digging Compost


Photo credit: rachelandrew

An increasing number of New Jersey residents are catching the compost bug, especially when they realize that cutting the amount of household trash in landfills plays a large role in going green.

Bergen County has experienced a surge in sales of composting bins, while at least 12 local schools have received grants to start their own composting programs this fall.

You don't even need a high-maintenance setup—or even a backyard—to get in on the action. "People think you find all the composting in rural areas, but that's not necessarily the case," says Lori Russo, a solid waste education and technical adviser at the Bergen County Utilities Authority (BCUA). "I'm a city girl and I keep a bin full of worms."Sharon DelVecchio, a Rutherford resident who works at Borough Hall, recently bought a composting bin from the BCUA as a means of producing less waste. "I keep a pail in my kitchen sink and throw all my food scraps in it—the tops of strawberries, tea bags, egg shells—and then, once that fills up, I bring it out to my composting bin in the back yard," DelVecchio says."If you maintain it properly, there's no odor or fruit flies whatsoever," she said. "After only a few weeks, I didn't have much at all to throw out in the regular trash, so if even half the town did it, it would be tremendous."

Food waste makes up the largest percentage of New Jersey trash that doesn't get recycled—a missed opportunity, officials say, to reduce our reliance on landfills and return soil to the Earth.

The state doesn't have a single food-composting center; officials say New Jersey's dense population, along with municipalities' concerns about odor, make it no easy feat to gain approval for the type of open-air sites you commonly find in Pennsylvania.

"The reason we haven't seen a lot of these types of facilities is because the financial return doesn't take place in four to five years, it takes place way down the road, so it isn't cheap," says Marie Kruzan, the executive director of the Association of New Jersey Recyclers, a non-profit advocacy group. "If you're in Nevada and the nearest person is 200 miles away, no one's going to complain about the smell of an open-air composting system, but in Bergen County, it's a different story," she said.

But with the cost of trash disposal hurtling skyward because of a lack of landfill space, supermarkets and cafeterias can save money by sending their food waste to a composting center, rather than let it moulder away in the trash.

Two food-waste processing centers are planned for Middlesex County, including Converted Organics, a Canadian-based, closed-vessel site that will handle 500 tons of commercial food waste per day when it opens in early 2008.

"It's unrealistic that municipalities are going to start mandating food waste recycling anytime soon, so the reality is that people should compost on their own," Russo says. Composting for her is a win-win: she's reducing the amount of waste destined for the landfill and her next-door neighbor's garden gets to reap the benefits. "In essence, composting is like giving the earth a vitamin so soil and food can remain healthy," she says.

See also: ::How to Green Your Gardening

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