Composting is a major job creator, according to a new report released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC, in conjunction with International Compost Awareness Week. The report, based on a survey of Maryland composters, claims that 1,400 new full-time jobs could be supported for every million tons of yard trimmings and food scraps converted into compost that is used locally.
In Maryland, compostable items such as food scraps, grass clippings, wood chips and the like equal to about 780,000 tons each year, according to Patch.com. Composting those items, per the Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs, & Protect the Bay [pdf] report, would create twice as many jobs as sending waste to landfill, and four times the number of jobs as burning garbage.
On a dollar-per-capital-investment basis, the number of jobs supported by composting versus disposal options was even more striking: 3 times more than landfills, and 17 times more than incinerators. Many of these jobs are skilled jobs such as equipment operators, with typical wages in the $16 to $20 per hour range. Collectively, the report says, these jobs could pay wages ranging from $23 million to $57 million.
“When sent to a landfill or trash incinerator, banana peels, broccoli stalks, and other leftover food scraps are a liability. But when composted, they are a valuable asset,” says Brenda Platt, lead author of the report and director of ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e project.
Compost, the dark, crumbly earthy-smelling material produced by the natural decomposition of organic materials, is a valuable soil conditioner that adds needed organic matter, sequesters carbon, improves plant growth, conserves water, and reduces reliance on chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
ILSR also released a companion paper, Building Healthy Soils with Compost to Protect Watersheds, which details how compost use can reduce watershed contamination from urban pollutants by 60 to 95 percent. Because compost can hold 20 times its weight in water and acts like a filter and sponge, it can reduce soil erosion and prevent stormwater run-off, huge issues impacting the Chesapeake Bay and other impaired watersheds in the United States.
In Maryland, like much of the country, there is insufficient capacity to compost all the food scraps discarded in the state. In ILSR’s survey of Maryland composters, regulations and permitting were the most frequently cited challenges to facilities’ financial viability and their challenges for expansion. Another reason is the state’s embrace of trash incineration and state policy that provides renewable energy credits to incineration, a technology that requires wasting and waste, thus competing with the development of non-burn options like composting. The report recommends policy changes to encourage a diverse and in-state composting infrastructure in order to maximize job creation and community benefits.