The Natural Next Step – Widespread Composting

by Cassie Phillips,

Executive Director St. Louis Earth Day


Working in the environmental field, I hear a lot of folks say: “I do my part. I recycle.” Although a good start, this common concession highlights the fact that many of us may be missing the point. Over the past decade, recycling participation has drastically improved, thanks to support from community governments and businesses working to provide curbside and workplace access to recycling services. The widespread buy-in has been a boon for the St. Louis Earth Day Recycling On the Go program – an event greening program that helps reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. Planners for events of all sizes have begun seeking out recycling solutions because attendees have come to expect this service. In this way, we support the recycling efforts of 35+ events each event season in the St. Louis area.

Recycling is an important first step in leading a more sustainable life. Small everyday efforts by individuals can add up to significant results for environmental conservation. So, what’s the next step? Composting!

I was recently inspired after attending the annual Missouri Recycling Association (MORA) conference in May. MORA has taken a significant step by broadening its scope to support the concept of Zero Waste. The Zero Waste philosophy looks at the full cycle of materials coming into and going out of a system, treats all materials as valuable resources, and manages them as resources, not waste.

St. Louis Earth Day has been promoting Zero Waste events for a couple of years now. We compost and recycle waste from our own event, aiming for 90% diversion or greater. This is possible with the help of our volunteers (who sort the materials) and vendors (who support our efforts by only bringing in materials that can be composted or recycled). Through our Recycling On the Go program we apply our model to other events in the area. You can check us out in action at PrideFest, New Belgium’s cLIPS OF FAITH, LouFest, and the Green Homes Festival. (For a complete listing, please visit: www.stlouisearthday.org).

Until recently, a post-consumer compost facility was the essential piece missing from the infrastructure available to process the food scraps collected at events. Thanks to a new permit, St. Louis Composting can now accept food scraps at their facilities, enabling us to fill the gap in our service.

Excited about this new partnership, I was disheartened to discover that this new industry is being threatened. Special interest groups are pressuring our political leaders to withdraw the 1992 ban on yard waste in landfills, claiming that they may be able to capture the methane produced when organic materials decompose. While methane can be used as a fuel source, the amount of methane emitted into the atmosphere as a side effect is unacceptable. As a green house gas, methane has over 72 times the warming effect as compared to carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Rather than lifting the ban, we should be working to keep all biodegradable materials out of landfills and into compost facilities to drastically cut green house gas emissions. Food scraps, yard trimmings, and other organics make up about 25% of the waste stream. By taking recycling to the next level –composting food scraps and yard trimmings into fertile soil – we can divert 85% of waste from entering landfills.

You can do your part by starting a simple backyard compost pile, encouraging your local leaders to provide curbside collection (many are already picking up yard waste!), and getting your favorite restaurants and groceries to recycle their food scraps too!

For more info go to www.stlouisearthday.org.