Compost Project 2016

hmncompostgraphic.400What’s not to love about composting? It is the ultimate trash to treasure story which has the potential of:

  • curbing landfill growth; organic wastes are often estimated to make up 30% by weight of household trash.
  • reducing the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, leaking from landfills (more here) (methane capture is notoriously inefficient)
  • improving stormwater runoff quality from compost-amended soils
  • reducing fossil fuel use from trash haulers (more here)
  • returning nutrients to soils instead of sequestering them in landfills
  • attracting wildlife, though some people might consider this a negative
  • and in Harrisonburg where all trash is mixed and hauled 65 miles to then have recyclables removed from the contaminated mix, separating out organic trash has the added benefit of a cleaner, more viable recyclable stream.

As we all know, “compost happpens,” so it does not take much work but does require space and willingness; and even so, backyard composting cannot accommodate animal products like meat, bones, grease, and dairy products, and compostable plastics.

BlackBearGoogleMapSnipThat’s where Black Bear Composting and its industrial composting facility in Crimora becomes a valuable local resource for waste-to-treasure generation. Large scale composting with frequent turning creates the high heat necessary to safely decompose animal products, compostable plastics and even pet wastes.

Black Bear Composting offers regular residential curbside pickup services in Charlottesville, Staunton, Waynesboro and Harrisonburg and contracts with schools and other facilities with food services, like James Madison University and the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, to pick up organic wastes. Last year, 2015, they partnered with the City of Charlottesville for a pilot market compost drop-off program.

The Proposal

Offering a compost drop-off station at a popular weekly valley farmers market could provide valuable educational opportunities as well as a diversion stream for organic waste which would otherwise contribute to worsening air and water quality and which can be turned into nutrient-rich, water-retaining, tilth-building soil amendments.

The Logistics

Black Bear Composting services will cost roughly $1400 to provide 65 gallon, lidded and lockable, bins on wheels; compostable bags for the bins and for distribution; and weekly Monday bin pick up service in Harrisonburg for seven months (31 weeks), namely April through October.

Compostable bags will be distributed at the farmers market for market goers to return at a later market with their kitchen scraps. A drop-off station will need to be staffed the duration of the market to prevent contamination of the compost bin with non-compostable trash.

The Harrisonburg Farmers Market is supportive of this effort. Harrisonburg’s Climate Action Alliance of the Valley has agreed to host the project on their website and act as treasury for donations. The project’s web presence is here.

Other local environmentally-oriented entities have expressed an interest in helping with funding or otherwise supporting this project: Harrisonburg Rockingham Green Network, the Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club, and the Friendly City Food Co-op. The Harrisonburg Voluntary Gas Tax Group may also be receptive to supporting this effort.

At a minimum, the drop-off station would need a canopy, banner, table, and informational flyers, and volunteers to staff it during market hours.

Beyond the Basics

Beyond just providing a bin for depositing compostables, a market compost drop-off project could amplify its impact by offering to market goers:

  • information and demonstrations on backyard composting
  • vermiculture composting information
  • demonstrations of how compost-amended soil improves water quality
  • an appreciation for decomposer organisms and how to support them
  • information on ways to recycle other household “wastes”

Keeping track of the amount of organics collected by weight and type, and of the neighborhoods participating could help inform more permanent efforts to divert this waste stream through community composting projects and/or curbside pick up programs.

Having ready access to an industrial scale compost operation handling compostable plastic could encourage market vendors to use compostable utensils for food service, further reducing this waste stream and offering education opportunities about alternatives to single-use items and plastics in general.

Potential Partners

Besides the obvious partners of the Harrisonburg Farmers Market and Black Bear Composting, potential partners include the Central Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners  who already have a regular Harrisonburg Farmers Market presence.

The Ask

Any Headwaters Master Naturalists interested in pursuing this project? Opportunities include:

  • contributing to planning and organizing
  • signing up for compost drop-off station shifts at Saturday morning Harrisonburg Farmers Markets April -October 2016
  • developing educational information and/or demonstrations
  • helping with fundraising

Contact Adrie: ahvoors [at]

Photos from Charlottesville’s City Market compost drop-off stations October 2015.