Environmental Quality / 2013

You Can Compost That!

You Can Compost That!

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by City Earthworm

Composting extends the lifespan of existing landfills, protects water quality, prevents the release of potent greenhouse gases, and produces the best fertilizer plants have ever met. Currently, City Earthworm is already gearing up to make composting accessible, easy, and desirable to the residents of Santa Monica by providing affordable weekly food waste pickup. At the same time, we will complete the farm-to-table-to-farm circle by delivering the food waste to organic farms for composting and increase their food production. With the funds provided by My LA2050, we would be able to expand our service to residents, restaurants, grocers, and other commercial customers throughout Los Angeles County so that everyone would be able to compost. In addition, we will partner up with local schools to set up composting operations on-site. We provide the setup, training, and a service plan to make sure the school’s composting operation is truly functional. Tending the composting operation is simple and can be done with coordinated efforts by the school’s groundskeeper, cafeteria staff, and designated students. This model is based on a system that is commonplace in the United Kingdom, in which local residents and business pay community gardens to compost their food waste. Composting is tremendously beneficial for the environment. The following is a short list of reasons why it should become common practice: 1) Greenhouse gas emissions from food rotting in landfills would be dramatically reduced through composting. When food waste rots in a landfill, methane – a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 21 times that of carbon dioxide – is released into the atmosphere. Considering that Americans throw away nearly 40% of their food and that food is the single largest source of waste to landfills, composting food scraps instead of simply trashing them can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 2) Existing landfill lifespans would be increased by composting. According to the 2006 Annual Report by Waste Management, existing landfills at that time had an average life of 28 years left. Land is one of Earth’s most precious natural resources. Using land for building new landfills or expanding existing ones is undesirable when it could be used for more productive purposes such as food production, housing, or habitat conservation. Even more importantly, landfilling carries significant negative environmental impacts and should be viewed as a last resort for waste disposal rather than the default path. 3) Water quality is preserved through composting. As mentioned above, composting diverts waste from landfills, which often contaminate groundwater supplies. Further, the use of compost in agriculture in place of synthetic fertilizers should be heavily promoted. Synthetic fertilizer causes algal blooms and aquatic dead zones when released into local bodies of water by rain or erosion. Naturally derived compost does not cause this harmful effect and, in fact, strengthens soil structure to reverse erosion. Compost has also been shown to significantly improve crop yield and strengthen plants’ resistance to disease. Furthermore, composting food waste instead of sending it to in-sink garbage disposals lessens the load on municipal wastewater treatment plants.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

City Earthworm was started with a single mission: to make composting a household activity. We designed and built the City Bin, a modern and compact indoor composter that will allow EVERYONE to compost, regardless of the size of their living space or yard. The City Bin will soon be in production locally in Los Angeles County and will be manufactured using recycled plastic.

Both City Earthworm and the City Bin have been featured in blogs, newspapers, as well as in television news programs.

City Earthworm realizes that, while it would be great to allow more people to compost at home, there will also be some people who do not want to or are unable to do so. The easiest way to truly popularize composting is to make it easy for people. Therefore, we started offering a food service pick-up program to apartment dwellers in Santa Monica. We now hope to expand our service to the entire Los Angeles County.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We will be sending food waste for composting to Burkart Organics Farm and Silver Lake Farms initially. As we expand our service and the amount of waste picked up increases, we will partner with additional farms. Delivery and drop-off will be performed locally within Los Angeles County to minimize emissions from vehicles.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

The project will have achieved its goal by diverting waste from landfills through composting. Towards this, we will measure the weight of food waste picked up each week and sum up the total at the end of the year. An average family of four generates about 500 pounds of food waste per year. We hope to divert 25,000 pounds of food waste from landfills in the remaining half of 2013 (equivalent to participation from 100 households).

Additionally, we hope to develop a self-sustaining business from the injection of funds from My LA2050. Therefore, we will also measure our success by examining the viability of the pickup business, the number of households served by our business, as well as the number of jobs created by the project. We hope to be serving at least 100 Los Angeles households and have created two full-time positions by the end of the year.

Finally, we aim to set up five self-sustaining composting operations at local schools by the year’s end.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Our project would primarily benefit Los Angeles by reducing its environmental impacts. However, it would also produce positive outcomes for several other indicators included in the My LA2050 Challenge. Below is a list of just some of the benefits provided by our project:

  • Food waste composting will significantly reduce Los Angeles’ contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In addition, diverting food waste from landfills will help improve air quality in Los Angeles by reducing the vehicles miles traveled by waste haulers to landfills and lessening odors produced by the rotting of organic waste.

  • Providing affordable weekly food scrap pickup will help Los Angeles meet the State’s waste diversion requirement to divert at least 50% of waste from landfills after 2004. Existing landfill lifespans in the Los Angeles area would also be increased by composting.

  • Create jobs for Angelenos as we will need individuals to perform weekly pickup services in the various neighborhoods of Los Angeles

  • Setting up composting operations in our schools would allow them to reduce their waste management expenses, produce the fertilizer needed for their grounds, generate income by composting community food waste, and teach students important lessons in biology, ecology, agriculture, and sustainability.

  • Both residents and businesses of Los Angeles can potentially save money by reducing the amount of trash picked up by conventional haulers to be sent to landfills. Additionally, they will gain satisfaction from helping their local schools.

  • Increase environmental awareness within Los Angeles in general, particularly with regards to food wastefulness and global climate change

  • Organic farms will benefit from the incoming stream of compostable food waste provided by our service. The compost will be used to enhance or increase crop yield, completing the farm-to-table-to-farm circle.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

We at City Earthworm aim to make it easier for the residents and businesses of Los Angeles to lower their environmental impact. We hope that Los Angeles will continue (but at an accelerated pace) on the path to becoming an environmentally-oriented, sustainable city. In the year 2050, success with regards to environmental quality means that Los Angeles would have achieved and surpassed the 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, as mandated by AB 32. We would be a zero-waste city, instead composting, recycling, or upcycling all of our waste. Composting would be mandatory for all organic waste. All Los Angeles farms would be organic, and most – if not all - produce and meats sold in grocery stores would be organically produced. Compost would be available free of charge to everyone for use in their own yards. Backyard vegetable gardens would be commonplace, and everyone would have easy access to fresh produce.