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Recycling's 'Final Frontier': the Composting of Food Waste

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Toxic Sludge & Organic Compost page.

 As municipal food composting programs spread across North America and Europe, no city faces a more daunting task than New York. Its Department of Sanitation collects more than 10,000 tons of trash every day, and another 1,700 tons of recyclable materials. A large portion of that waste, though, may soon have a future other than the landfill: Food scraps and other "organics" have long been just a part of New York's trash pile, but a pilot program in the city is aimed at rolling out collection of that material and composting it, a far more environmentally friendly method.

"It's the next new thing in terms of municipal waste handling in the 21st century," says Eric Goldstein, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in New York. "Right now... there are over 150 communities throughout the United States that are collecting organics at curbside. It's a national trend. It's revolutionary."

Many of those programs are still voluntary, and the bulk are in small cities and towns. But larger cities in North America - including San Francisco,Seattle, San Antonio, Toronto, and Portland, Ore. - are moving rapidly ahead. And municipal composting efforts in many European countries are far advanced and steadily growing. In 2011, the 27 states in the European Union composted on average 15 percent of municipal waste, with Austria composting 34 percent, the Netherlands 28 percent, and countries like France, Spain, and Germany each composting about 18 percent.    

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