Rozmus stood in front of a room full of municipal and
county officials and experts on solid waste disposal and
talked about my cantaloupe rinds.
my cantaloupe rinds specifically. But the food scraps of
the 725 households in Oak Park, Ill. participating in
the village’s food scrap composting program, one of
which is mine.
listened proudly at the recent Transforming Waste in
Chicagoland symposium, organized by the nonprofit Delta
Institute, as Rozmus, Oak Park’s environmental
services manager, spoke about CompostAble — the only
such public program operating in the state.
Oak Park residents pay $14 a month and get a small pail
for kitchen scraps, a starting supply of compostable
plastic bags and a 96-gallon cart for organics — the
food scraps plus yard waste.
can put far more in the pails than we could in a
backyard compost pile — not just vegetable scraps, but
meat, bones, dairy products and compostable paper and
we send it out as if it were dry cleaning.
village’s trash hauler, Waste Management, picks it up
and takes it to a facility in Romeoville, Ill., where it
is ground up, put into crop rows called windrows, turned
regularly for aeration and transformed into compost.
twice a year, the village hauls back some finished
compost and invites program participants to help
peered at the photos that Rozmus, who created Oak Park’s
program, showed of a windrow turner — the massive
machine that aerates its compost piles — making its
way down a long row.
my apple cores in there? My overripe bananas? Was this
the final resting place of our leftover Thai food?
is an honorable place. My little under-sink pail — and
no, it doesn’t smell — is apparently doing serious
scraps are a major part of the solid waste stream,"
said Eve Pytel, the Delta Institute’s director of
strategic priorities, and thus a prime target for
reducing the amount of waste sent to methane
you want to take your next big slice of the pie out, you’ve
got to get food scraps," she said.
Park is doing so, Rozmus said, and taking out a
good-sized slice — about 2,300 pounds a week.
about a ton a week that we’re not sending to the
landfill," she said.
waste experts see composting as a way to push past the
recycling plateau many towns have reached. Seattle is
serious about doing so; its City Council voted recently
to impose a fine, albeit a nominal one, on households
that put food waste into their regular garbage instead
of compost bins.
industrial composting programs are being tried in a
number of areas. New York City has a pilot curbside
pickup program that is now serving 100,000 households.
this area, a private company, Evanston.Ill.-based
Collective Resource, provides home pickup of food scraps
to some 200 households. And there have been a few
attempts at establishing public programs. Another
northern Chicago suburb, Highland Park, started a food
scrap composting program in 2012, but it was halted
after six months when the composting facility
experienced numerous problems and closed down.
Oak Park’s program, also begun in 2012 as a pilot, is
still going. "We’re all jealous," said
Walter Willis, executive director of the Solid Waste
Agency of Lake County, Ill., who is working on
establishing food scrap recycling programs there.
watching us. It’s very exciting," Rozmus said
the program may not fly in other communities, she said:
"There’s an attitude in Oak Park where people get
it. They understand environmental issues. They’re
willing to pay a little extra to teach their kids the
right thing to do."
even so, only 10 percent of residents participate.
signed up eagerly. I had thought about composting in my
backyard for years; but thinking was as far as I ever
Kralik, a high school chemistry teacher who lives in Oak
Park, did compost in her backyard. But not any more. She
is now a happy customer of the village’s composting
composting wasn’t easy, she said. "It took
forever. We couldn’t keep it hot enough," she
compost from the village program is better than anything
she and her family ever made, she said.
only is her under-sink bin odorless, but without food
scraps in it, her conventional garbage is, as well, she
said. And there isn’t much of it.
don’t even have to take it out every week," she
do we. The composting program has been a revelation.
Once we separated out the food scraps, we saw that the
vast majority of our garbage was food scraps.
much of it made me feel guilty. All those melons I throw
out untouched because they turn out to be tasteless; all
those chicken carcasses that a better person than I
would make soup with; all those vegetables that turned
rotten in the back of the refrigerator — how could I
waste so much food?
the guilt is gone. The more food I put in my under-sink
pail, the more compost can be made. I’m not wasting
food; I’m providing the ingredients of a valuable
scraps are the new frontier," Rozmus said. "As
soon as we start getting more infrastructure, I think it’s
going to grow faster than recycling. People have been
recycling for 25 years, and I think they’re ready for
left the symposium a happy resident of the new frontier.
I had seen where my cucumber peelings go; and the planet
and I both liked it.