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Advocates see composting as alternative to incineration of Baltimore’s food waste

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Monday, February 19, 2024   

The founder of the Baltimore Compost Collective wants Baltimore to ditch trash incineration, fight climate change and grow healthier food.

Marvin Hayes began composting in Baltimore more than a decade ago and has grown the operation into a collection service picking up around 1,500 pounds of food waste each week. Hayes operates a composting facility at the nonprofit Filbert Street Garden, where the organic material is turned into rich soil for use at the urban garden.

Hayes sees a revolution, a better way of life for Baltimore's Black community to help fight what he calls "food apartheid" and end the city's reliance on a giant, polluting waste-to-energy incinerator and fight climate change.

"People didn't know that the incinerator was causing $55 million in health damages, or they didn't know what the incinerator was," Hayes recounted. "People didn't know that Baltimore County trash gets brought here and burned. Howard County's trash gets brought here and burned."

In September the Environmental Protection Agency announced a $4 million grant as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill to build a solar-powered composting facility in south Baltimore to accept food scraps and other organic material. The agency estimates the facility will keep 12,000 tons of waste out of the city's incinerator.

Incinerators release large quantities of lead, mercury and other harmful pollutants into the air. In late 2020 Baltimore signed a 10-year contract to continue incineration, much to the chagrin of environmental advocates such as Hayes, who have long advocated for composting as a viable alternative to toxic trash incineration.

A 2018 study by the Baltimore Office of Sustainability noted compost-amended soil can reduce contamination of urban pollutants by 60% to 95%, and protects against the danger associated with lead in urban soils.

Hayes' composting facility has a limited capacity. When it is full, he transports the rest of his food scraps to a bigger organic compost facility in Upper Marlboro in Prince George's County.

"If PG County is doing it, why shouldn't Baltimore be following the same practices?" Hayes asked. "Make a large scale composting facility, so when the residents put their recycling out, they'll put their composting out, it'll go to a large-scale composting facility, create four times more jobs than incinerators, two times more jobs than the landfill."

This story is part of the Solutions Journalism Network-Public News Service Collaboration and was produced based on original reporting by Aman Azhar for Inside Climate News.



reporting for the Solutions Journalism Network-Public News Service Collaboration





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