by Hally Ahearn, Beth LeaMond and Susan Harris
The City of Greenbelt currently supports several opportunities for residents to recycle organic matter, to keep food scraps from creating methane at the landfill. You can participate in returning food scraps to the earth to nurture new plants and flowers by participating in one or more of the ways listed here.
Why it’s important
The EPA has shown that 21 percent of what’s trucked to landfills is food scraps. The food decomposition process releases methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Yet when food scraps are composted, mixing the “green” scraps with brown matter such as leaves and wood chips, waste is transformed into healthy compost. Compost provides nutrients and microorganisms for plant growth, and amends soil to hold water. So, by recycling food scraps you turn climate-changing organic waste into sustenance for growing things.
Food Scrap Drop-off and Community Composting
Members of an all-volunteer Community Hot Composting Group drop off their kitchen food scraps at a 3-bin hot composting station located across from the Springhill Lake Recreation Center in Greenbelt West. Anyone who lives in Greenbelt can become a member, but apartment dwellers are especially encouraged to recycle their food scraps this way.
Using funds from a Prince George’s Community Impact Grant, Greenbelt’s Public Works Department built and installed the critter-proof 3-bin “hot composting” station at the Rec Center site. Hot composting is a controlled process that causes temperatures to rise to 130-170℉, which is enough to kill pathogens and weed seeds.
To become a member of this group, you will need to attend a training session (now on Zoom) to learn about how the hot composting process works, and how to combine greens (food scraps) and browns as you drop off. After training, you will be given a green countertop bucket and a laminated card that lists what foods to collect in it. For your first drop off, another member (masked) will meet you to guide you in using locks, weighing and logging your dropoff, and adding browns. Then, about every six weeks on a Saturday morning, members volunteer for a community workday that involves flipping material from bin to bin while wetting, or sifting cured compost. Aeration and wetting contribute to the quick turnaround and high temperatures that are the benefits of hot composting. (Currently, workdays are attenuated and scheduled for only one person or family to work at a time.)
Participating households bring their accumulated food scraps—things like vegetable trimmings, fruit skins, eggshells and coffee grounds—and enjoy time with friends and neighbors (unfortunately, not during the pandemic when workdays are handled by only one person or family working at a time) as they participate in creating healthy compost for themselves, and for other Greenbelt yards and gardens, including the Three Sisters Garden adjacent to this composting operation.
To Join the Hot Composting Community Group
Make a difference while you get to know other earth-friendly Greenbelters. To sign up for training, apply online at this address: https://bit.ly/GBComposting. For more information, you may send questions to GreenbeltNeighborhoodCompost.
Composting with Worms at the New Deal Café
At the New Deal Café, a dedicated group of volunteers known as “The Wigglers” carry buckets of food scraps from the Café to a site where decomposing food and brown matter can be mixed and then given enough composting time for a hearty population of microorganisms to develop. The pre-composted mixture is brought back to the Café’s back deck where three Worm Wigwams sit. These lodgings, purchased using funds from a Prince George’s County Community Impact Grant, host a community of hungry red wigglers, a special kind of earthworm that consumes decomposing food and brown matter. Wiggler volunteers harvest the “vermicompost” as it falls through a grate at the bottom of the Wigwam “processing plants.” After curing, the volunteers sift and bag this highly-valued compost for distribution.
Vermicompost (sometimes labeled “worm castings”) is a beneficial hummus-like soil amendment created by red wiggler earthworms as they consume and then cast (poop) out organic matter and its microorganisms to create a mixture of bedding materials and worm castings. Vermicompost enhances soil fertility. Physically, vermicompost-treated soil has better aeration, porosity, bulk density and water retention than traditional compost. Chemical properties such as pH, electrical conductivity, and organic matter content also contribute to an improved crop yield.
The Wigglers bag vermicompost in used coffee bags because those bags have holes that provide air for the living and breathing microorganisms. Volunteers have first dibs on bags; the many extra bags are distributed in the community in exchange for a contribution to the New Deal Café.
To Become a Wiggler Team Member
If you would like to become a Wiggler team member—and you’re willing to help with picking up buckets of food scraps, feeding and caring for the hungry red wigglers, or helping to harvest and bag vermicompost for distribution—contact NewDealWigglers@gmail.com.
Food Scrap Drop-off at the Residential Recycling Center
The City of Greenbelt now offers a food scraps drop-off and composting program. By partnering with Compost Crew, Greenbelt residents simply bring their food scraps—which would normally fill up the landfill and slowly release greenhouse gases—to the Residential Recycling Center located in between Buddy Attick Park and the Public Works building at 555 Crescent Road, Greenbelt, MD 20770. Allowed food scraps include meat and dairy. Also allowed are hard-to-compost items, such as compostable bags or flatware, so long as they are BPI-Certified products.
Compost Crew then hauls to the Prince George’s County Composting Facility, where it is processed (composted) into LeafGRO Gold. The LeafGRO is then sold by the county, mainly to the agricultural industry, which uses it to amend soils and fertilize crops, and the funds go directly back to pay for the program.
To Participate in Drop-off at the Recycling Center
This program is available to any Greenbelt resident, but they must register with Public works first so that the success of the program can be measured. To register to drop off your food scraps, email email@example.com with your name, address, a contact phone number, and the number of household residents.
Support for Backyard Composting
Greenbelt’s Department Public Works sells compost bins for backyard composting at a reduced rate of $30 each (instead of $130, the retail price), thanks to funding from BackYardComposting.org. The compost bins are the FreeEarth bins from EnviroWorld.
To Purchase a Backyard Compost Bin
In-home Vermicomposting with Your Family
Using funds from a Prince George’s County Community Impact Grant, the city purchased enough small plastic bins and other supplies to build 100 worm composters suitable for use indoors at home. Vermicomposting at home is a great way to keep food scraps from the landfill and reap high value vermicompost for houseplants and outdoor plantings. The activity provides an opportunity for kids to learn about how composting works, and to assume some responsibility for feeding the red wigglers and diverting food waste to reduce global warming. As of this writing, Public Works still has 25 kits with instructions, and a contact person to provide red wigglers to stock the bin—all for free.
To Compost Inside Using Red Wiggler Worms
Other Recycling Opportunities in Greenbelt
- Leaf collection and yard waste recycling by the Public Works Department.
- More recycling programs here – electronics, paint, etc.
- Free mulch – come and get it!
- Free wood chips available for pickup in the GHI yard during its office hours.
- Where Greenbelters Donate Their Used Stuff
- The Old Greenbelt Theatre composts its popcorn.