Compost Cab Helps City Dwellers Turn Garbage to Soil

If you live in a city, you might have a window box or a pot of tomatoes on your balcony. You might even be lucky enough to have a small backyard garden. But do you compost? Probably not: composting in a small space is tough, not to mention smelly. You could get a worm bin or a bokashi system, but the truth is: for city dwellers, composting is more often an ideal than a reality.

Enter Compost Cab, a soon-to-launch concept for city-dwellers in Washington, D.C. For $8 a week, Compost Cab provides you with a trash bin which you fill with organic waste. Then the company picks it up each week and trucks it to a nearby urban farm, which turns your banana peels and coffee grounds into soil. The idea's the brainchild of entrepreneur Jeremy Brosowsky, who saw that community gardens and urban farms near him were having trouble finding rich enough soil to grow large quantities of food, at the same time he was wishing he could do something with his own kitchen scraps.

Brosowsky's interest is in urban agriculture--greening cities, reducing the heat island effect (covering all that concrete and asphalt with parks and gardens) and getting local food to people who need it through community gardens and other projects. So he hasn't even calculated whether the emissions saved through a composting program will offset the carbon pumped out of the back of Compost Cab's truck.

But "it's impossible for me to envision doing less good by not letting this stuff rot in a landfill," he says.

We're definitely skeptical of carbon footprint "calculators," but we had to run the numbers. If Compost Cab was using, say, a late-model diesel SUV (it's not; it's using a truck), it'd put about 10 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Composting a ton of food saves a quarter-ton of methane and 60 pounds of carbon, so Compost Cab would need to collect and compost 330 tons of food yearly to be carbon neutral. But, Brosowsky says, just four average families produce a ton of food waste a year. He'd only need to sign up 1320 families, or a few office buildings, to get those kind of numbers.

And of course, the benefits of composting go beyond saving a bit of carbon. Food gets a little more local. Neighbors get a little closer to the earth. Even the green-collar workers hauling away your grass clippings and celery tops get a little more respect, says Brosowsky. "Garbage men don't get treated with respect, because we treat trash like trash. So why would we treat the people who handle the trash any different? This compost has value--we're imbuing it with value--and imbuing them with value too. The service is starting small in Washington D.C., but Brosowsky hopes that Compost Cab will expand. He sees the model as eminently franchiseable, so people in other cities can start up their own compost cabs. And eventually, he hopes, even city governments will get in on it.

"My hope is that we'll be able to show the city what we're capable of doing and prove to them there's money to be saved. Then I'll say, 'Give me Ward 1,'" he says, referring to one of the eight districts that make up Washington D.C. Ultimately, he wants to haul compost from a large area on the city's dime--even as the government saves money on trash-hauling because less of it is being hauled.

And that's a win-win situation everybody can benefit from. No worms required.

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