By Joshua Blanco
The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports that 167 million tons of trash are dumped into landfills and trash incinerators across the country annually. Turns out it’s not just the trash that stinks—it’s also what happens to it after we get rid of it. That’s because each bag we throw away contributes to the pollution of the surrounding soil, air and water, worsening climate change and creating health hazards for both humans and animals alike.
But here’s the kicker—more than half of the municipal garbage we set out to be hauled off doesn’t have to be there at all. Why? Because it’s compostable! A recent waste audit conducted earlier this fall at a Buncombe County administration building revealed that roughly two-thirds of its waste could be composted or recycled. That’s a total of 93 pounds of waste that could be saved from landfills each week. And that’s just one building. Another audit that took place in June showed similar results, revealing that roughly 50 percent of the waste found at three Asheville Parks and Recreation facilities was actually compostable. In response, both the city and local businesses have been ramping up efforts to curb their waste.
“In the past month or two we’ve had a little bit of a growth spurt happen with new places opening up,” says Danny Keaton, owner of Danny’s Dumpster, a local commercial composting business that services Asheville, Hendersonville, Weaverville and everywhere in between. He estimates the company hauls about 25 to 30 tons of compostable material per week, with grocery stores and restaurants making up the bulk of it. “Even though it sounds like a lot, it doesn’t take much to get to that kind of tonnage,” he says. “I’m sure that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what comes into the landfill.”
Recently the city introduced a program to further combat excess waste by opening two locations where Buncombe County residents can drop-off compostable materials free of charge. Sustainability coordinator for the City of Asheville, Kiera Bulan, cites a number of reasons people might not be able to do their own composting. And for those who can, she admits there’s often a steep learning curve when it comes to “understanding the science and magic of composting.”
“This is our way of providing opportunity for a major slice of the population who otherwise wouldn’t compost themselves,” Bulan says. “We want to help those who still have a desire to do right by the landfill and the environment.”
While residents also have the option to pay to have their compost hauled away, it’s not something everyone can afford, especially when they can throw it away for free. By making the drop-offs free to anyone, the city eliminates a significant cost barrier to composting.
The good news is the more people that show interest in the program, the more convenient it becomes. According to Bulan, the goal is to eventually place drop-offs in areas that people can access while walking or cycling—a system that can be “woven into the fabric of our daily lives,” she says.
For now the city is piloting the program to get a general sense for how people will respond, and just how much of a difference they can make. So far more than 600 people have signed up following the initial launch, diverting nearly a half ton of waste from the landfill each week. “It’s really just about closing the loop,” Bulan says. “It’s us taking responsibility for what we’re putting out in the world and how we’re doing it.”
To learn more about what you can compost and for tips on how to get started, visit the Composting Information page at AshevilleGreenWorks.org. Buncombe residents planning to take their compost to one of the drop-off locations can register at AshevilleNC.gov. Specific instructions on how to recycle your Christmas tree can also be found on the city’s website along with a detailed pickup schedule. For more information, visit CompostNow.org, CompostAVL.com and DannysDumpster.com.