Washington, D.C. residents who purchase home composting systems would receive a $75 rebate from the District government under a bill Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) proposed Oct. 3.
The legislation seeks to incentivize home composting systems for residents as part of a local government effort to reduce food waste by as much as 80 percent.
D.C. residents currently have the option of joining a community compost network with 50 composting sites around the city or going to government-run sites in each ward where they can drop off their compost for free.
The bill would formally amend the Sustainable Solid Waste Management Amendment Act of 2014, which prioritized government resources for sustainable methods of recycling and composting over landfilling and incineration. The new bill would also provide training to residents who purchase home composting systems to further the original bill’s goal and ensure proper usage.
The bill does not yet provide for curbside pickup of composting.
Cheh said she is optimistic for the bill’s success because District residents have shown willingness to contribute to environmental causes.
“There is certainly an educational component and an incentive component,” Cheh said in an Oct. 5 interview with DCist. “But I think it will fall on receptive ears, either because they have this ethic of progressive environmentalism or because they just like the idea of reconnecting with natural things.”
An April 2017 District of Columbia Compost Feasibility Study commissioned by the Department of Public Works found strong demand for a curbside collection program, as the city generates up to 234,000 tons a year in organic waste. A citywide, mandatory composting program could recover up to more than half of that number, the report suggests.
Cheh said much of the 234,000 tons of waste comes from single-family homes.
However, since Washington’s curbside pickup program is potentially years away from being instituted, the best way to immediately address the environmental problem is to have people compost themselves, Cheh said.
“When you consider that at-home waste is the largest percentage of food waste that we have, if we’re able to get a handle on that, it could have significant environmental and economic benefits,” Cheh said. “We want to give people an incentive to do that and make it accessible for all people.”
Still, critics say the cost of composting systems may create an economic barrier. For example, at home improvement store the Home Depot, the median cost of home composters is $100, making the bill’s rebate critical to helping the program achieve success.
In order to receive the rebate, residents will have to complete an in-person training class administered by the Department of Public Works and submit a claim to the city. Cheh emphasized the importance of the educational portion of the bill to the program’s success.
“You do have to be informed about it. It’s like anything else. There’s a lot of inertia and a lot of uncertainty about how to [compost],” Cheh said in the DCist interview. “I think if we could educate them and show them all the benefits, I think they’d begin to embrace it.”
A potential stumbling block to the home composting systems’ success is whether they will attract rodents or other pests. Last year, the Department of Health issued a warning that alerted residents to increased numbers of rats around the District as part of a long-term trend, due in part to trash not being stored properly, which could be a factor when composting.
The bill sets guidelines for composters to not amplify the rodent issue.
“A person may compost on their property,” the bill reads. “Provided, that the composting is conducted in a manner which will not promote the propagation, harborage or attraction of vectors, or the creation of public nuisances.”
Cheh’s bill is part of a long-term effort to reduce the city’s waste by as much as 80 percent. Christopher Shorter, director of the D.C. Department of Public Works, said the effort helps save money and makes the city more environmentally friendly. The District is currently looking into purchasing a site where it can build a composting center to expedite this process.
“Ultimately, we are going to be a more environmentally friendly city because many more of our residents will be separating their food waste and reducing landfill, which is the ultimate goal,” Shorter said in an interview with The Washington Post.