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CHAPTER 6 Urban Agriculture Composting lauren suerth Composting is a natural decomposition process that converts organic materials to usable soil, producing a biologically stable, humic substance that is a nutrient-rich soil amendment (Cooperband 2002). It is a valuable waste management method because it provides environmental, economic, and social justice benefits. Diverting organic materials from landfills to compost operations decreases the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the air and prolongs the life of existing landfills (Harrison and Richard 1992). Compost is a marketable commodity that, when added to soil, improves the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of the land, which reduces the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides (Cooperband 2002). Furthermore, participation in composting can build awareness about the full life cycle of food. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has collected and reported data on the generation and disposal of municipal solid waste for more than thirty years. Analyzing these data provides valuable insight into the amount and composition of the waste stream, which, in combination with reemerging environmental and social concerns, allows policy makers, urban agriculturists, 84 regulation and other professionals to identify opportunities to manage and use the system in a more sustainable manner. This chapter focuses specifically on promoting composting in cities because, as of 2010, 80.7 percent of the United States population lived in urban areas, and consequently, our waste management issues are more of an urban phenomenon (US Census Bureau 2013). Composting reduces pollution, lessens pressure on landfills, supports urban agriculture, and has the potential to generate revenue through sales of fertilizer. The EPA’s Facts and Figures for 2012 report demonstrates first and foremost the increasing presence of waste in modern society. Between 1980 and 2012, the amount of solid waste generated per person per day increased from 3.66 to 4.38 pounds. In 2012, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash and discarded over 136 million tons to the landfill (54 percent), recycled almost 65 million tons (26 percent), and composted around 21 million tons (8 percent) (US Environmental Protection Agency 2014c). These percentages, however, belie the potential of recycling and composting, because when we examine the composition of the municipal solid waste we find that 55 percent is organic materials (i.e., food scraps, paper or paperboard, and yard trimmings), which are recyclable and compostable. This discrepancy identifies the need to increase the presence and use of waste recovery programs. My thesis developed from this evidence because it indicates that the existing federal, state, and local waste management policies ignore the environmental consequences of disposing of organic materials in landfills. The objective of this chapter is to identify regulatory methods that legitimize composting within cities. To accomplish this, I argue that reconstructing municipal solid waste regimes will establish composting as a sustainable waste management method as part of the reemerging urban-agriculture movement. As chapter 4 indicates, cities initiated sanitary services early in the twentieth century, outlawing composting and other processes. However, if managed and regulated according to contemporary goals, standards, and uses, composting can support urban-agriculture activities and produce a variety of benefits for communities, as discussed in chapters 5, 7, and 16 on the Pacific Northwest, production processes, and public health, respectively. In this chapter, I also discuss these benefits, but my principal piece of advice is to urge communities to experiment and find an approach or approaches to composting that support their goals and interests. Composting 85 The chapter will provide the basic context of municipal solid waste regulations for organic materials in order to increase understanding of how local governments can integrate composting into urban areas. Part 1 analyzes composting policies according to two methods, centralized and decentralized. Part 2 explains the structure of composting regulations and how federal, state, and local laws influence municipalities. Parts 3 and 4 provide factors to consider when amending a municipal code to integrate composting into the waste management system and as a permitted land use. the municipal solid waste context There are approximately 9,800 curbside recycling and 3,120 community composting programs in the United States, so Americans have opportunities to sustainably dispose of organic materials (US Environmental Protection Agency 2013b, 2014b). These programs, however, are not as ubiquitous as traditional disposal systems, and the amount of organic waste recovered varies significantly according to the material. This is evident by comparing the total amount of a material to its percentage in each waste stream. Figure 7 identifies the total amount of municipal solid waste...


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