It’s Global Recycling Day this week on Saturday. Since I think of composting as a form of recycling, I wanted to take a quick look at some of the programs and progress that we’re seeing around the Northern Virginia (NoVA) region in composting food and yard waste.
I’ll give an update on some of the current initiatives that exist across some of the counties, and then I’ll take a step back and look at how recycling and composting fit into a broader sustainability picture.
Composting in the NoVA region
There continues to be progress in recycling food and yard waste so that it can be turned into finished compost.
Arlington County is in the third calendar year of its comingled food and yard waste collection program. And, interest in composting and using finished compost continues to grow in the county. I love this program and personally hope that this type of comingled food and yard waste collection program can be implemented across our region. It’s a great way to make composting accessible to households.
Fairfax and Loudoun counties are still going strong with their yard waste collection programs. And, Fairfax even has a food waste drop-off location that makes it easier for residents to have their scraps recycled into compost.
Prince William County’s yard waste curbside collection program continues to gain nice traction! And, I love that the Resident Convenience Center at the Balls Ford Road Composting Facility in Manassas, VA is a great example of how composting is a form of recycling.
Yard waste and food scraps are dropped off in the same location as other important recyclable items, like glass, plastic bottles, and batteries. This makes it so much easier for people to bring their compostable items to a good home!
The largest opportunity remains in getting food waste out of landfills, and transportation seems to be the largest barrier to gaining further traction. (Awareness as a barrier is also large, and transportation and awareness create a little bit of a chicken-or-the-egg consideration).
For transportation, most food-waste collection companies that sell curbside collection programs are focused on Maryland, where the legislative backdrop has been particularly favorable for composting. Additionally, as houses become more spaced out as we move further away from Washington, D.C., the collection companies have a harder time getting economies of scale to create a financially viable compost pickup route.
Excitingly, some of the largest companies in NoVA are starting composting programs at their offices. This not only helps raise awareness of composting for their customers and employees, but it is also helpful because it allows compost collection companies to start establishing trucking routes in our area.
Composting in a broader context: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot, and Refuse
As our world becomes more populated, waste management has become an increasingly important issue. Every year, we (humans) generate billions of tons of waste around the world, and much of it ends up in landfills, polluting the environment and contributing to climate change.
There are a lot of helpful frameworks in the Waste Management industry that help everyone think about how to reduce, reuse, and recycle this waste before it ends up in a landfill. I’ve chosen one version of the “5 R’s” framework here—refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot—but there are many good frameworks (and iterations of this one!). Part of me loves that composting (“rot”) actually has its own “R” in this one!
Refuse (wasteful items)
This is a reminder that we can always choose to refuse items that cannot be reused or recycled. This means saying no to single-use items like straws, disposable cutlery, and plastic bags. By refusing these items, we can reduce the amount of waste that we generate, and encourage companies to produce more sustainable alternatives. It’s the power of purchasing.
Sometimes this is put as the fifth and final stage in the 5 R’s framework. Personally, in my own life, I think of it first so that I can (try to) plan ahead, instead of trying to recycle something that I didn’t need in the first place.
Reducing the amount of waste we generate just means consuming less and using products that are more durable and long-lasting. Some ways to reduce waste include:
Shopping in bulk to reduce packaging waste. [I’m doing a diet right now to lose a few pounds (well, a lot of pounds), and this is particularly really hard! Having the single serving options is not only convenient but it can help reduce my overeating].
Bringing reusable bags, water bottles, and containers when running errands.
Using cloth napkins and towels instead of disposable ones.
Choosing products with minimal packaging or packaging that is recyclable or compostable.
Specifically for food, this also means less being very thoughtful about what we buy at the store so that it doesn’t go bad in the fridge. I’m endlessly thrifty and am easily upsold on bigger containers. This certainly helps reduce the packaging that is used but isn’t helpful when the food spoils before my family and I can eat it.
Reusing items instead of throwing them away is the next way to reduce waste. Some examples include:
Donating clothing and household items to charity.
Using refillable containers for household and personal care products.
Repurposing jars and containers for storage or DIY projects.
Fixing broken items instead of replacing them.
I love that donation bins are much more easily found around our region—it makes it so convenient and top-of-mind!)—and DIY videos help even the least creative (like me!) find cool uses for items.
Separating recyclable materials from other waste and ensuring they are processed correctly is the next step. Some common materials that can be recycled include:
Paper, including newspaper, magazines, and cardboard.
Plastics, including bottles, bags, and containers.
Glass, including bottles and jars.
Metal, including aluminum cans and steel containers.
This is composting organic waste. This turns food scraps, yard waste, and other organic materials into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Composting has many benefits, including:
Reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills.
Producing high-quality soil that can be used to grow plants and vegetables.
Reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
As a composting facility, I love this step, but having it as a separate item is bittersweet to me. On the one hand, it’s great to draw attention to our need to compost. I had to learn as an adult that I should separate food waste from the trash, whereas finding a recycling container for the more ‘traditional’ recyclable items is (almost) second nature to me. On the other hand, I wish that we were at a point where everyone looked at composting as just another form of recycling.
Our Balls Ford Road Composting Facility is able to take any organic material, including meats, dairy, and bones. We have a full list of compostable items that we can accept if you'd like to drop off materials at our site for composting.
Overall, I think it is important to step back and look at the larger picture since composting, or even recycling more broadly, isn’t the full solution that we’ll need. The 5 R's of waste management is one helpful framework for thinking about how we can reduce our impact on the environment.
By reducing our consumption, reusing items, recycling materials, composting organic waste, and refusing single-use items, we can all play a part in creating a more sustainable future. Every little bit counts!
About Freestate Farms' Compost & Mulch Facility
Freestate Farms makes premium landscaping products—compost, topsoil, and mulch—by recycling food and yard waste in Manassas, VA. Our composts, topsoil, and mulches are specially designed to increase the health and productivity of local soils, and with our focus on sustainable practices, this lets the environment and your garden Grow Good, together. We sell bulk compost, bagged compost, bulk natural mulches, bulk dyed mulches, bagged dyed mulches, and bulk topsoil.