Data in Review: City Market Composting Program

For the past two years Smart Cville has collected and opened data from the city market composting program.  Below, our friend Susan Elliott from from the City of Charlottesville’s Environmental Sustainability Division helps put this data into context and gives us an update on where the program is headed.  You can also see the raw data and JSON feeds for 2015 and 2016.

The 2016 Numbers

2016 versus 2015

The 2016 City Market Composting Season & Background

2016 was the second year of the City Market Composting Program. The program began as a pilot in 2015, funded through a small grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency, and was a new attempt for the City of Charlottesville to provide composting service to its residents. The City Market location was selected for several reasons including its popularity as a destination (which mirrored successful programs from other communities, offered easy access for residents that already visit the City Market, and offered publicity to engage new composters). The program was designed to offer a free drop-off collection service and to provide program information and in-person support regarding what materials are compostable and how to make it easy to manage the compostable waste stream at home. Due to its popularity, when the 2015 City Market season ended, a regional partner (the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, RSWA) began offering the same service at its McIntire Recycling Center, which is centrally-located and about 1 mile away from the City Market location. The McIntire program was initially slated to ‘fill the gap’ between Market seasons, but was extended and continued operations through the 2016 City Market season. (Note: the McIntire Composting Program is now scheduled through June 2017.)

What we saw in 2016 compared to 2015 was a regional increase in the number of users and amount of material collected. This increase occurred with both drop-off programs in operation. The City Market alone collected 17% more material than in 2015, and had a range of 28 to 54 weekly participants. Interest in composting and support from the program participants remained high, and the Market observed many visitors from out of town taking photos and sample material to bring back to their cities. The composting program users also demonstrated a strong understanding of how to compost and what is (and isn’t) compostable.

Why Compost?

A variety of benefits come from composting – some are more environmentally-focused and some are immediate benefits residents experience. Common reasons for composting we’ve heard include:

  • The household trash is ‘cleaner’ and doesn’t get smelly. Residents don’t have to take out the trash as often.
  • Composting reduces the amount of trash residents have to pay to be picked up
  • Composting takes a ‘waste’ item and converts it into something useful
  • Composting supports local agriculture, improves soil quality, and increases water retention of the soil
  • Compostable materials in a landfill break down anaerobically and produce methane (a powerful greenhouse gas), which can be avoided through composting (and aerobic process).
  • Composting creates less waste to send to the landfill

Looking Ahead and What We’ve Learned

While the 2016 Program successfully met its objectives, saw an increase in compostable material collected, and transitioned from a pilot grant-funded program while operating concurrently with a second drop-off location available, the program and composting service in Charlottesville is still evolving. A couple of take-aways that will inform our next steps:

  • With the users of the City Market drop-off location demonstrating less need for in-person support, it suggests an opportunity to separate the collection service from the outreach and to shift in-person staff activities to focus on increasing participation and expanding the program.
  • The two drop-off locations available to residents offered different times and access. (For example, the City Market location is more walkable and was available 1 day/week whereas the McIntire location is more driving-oriented and is open 5 days/week). Even though the locations were nearby each other and collected the same materials, area residents reported in a survey that they used one location over the other and that the locations were not interchangeable for them.
  • Participation levels, while showing some overall increases, indicate that a large portion of the potential composting market is yet to be engaged. Combined with the observations listed above, we are considering how to:
    • increase the number of collection locations,
    • decrease barriers to access (such as operation times, reliance on a vehicle, or lack of parking), and
    • engage more residents so they know this service is available
  • After the compostable material is collected, it is transferred to a commercial composting facility to be processed. Identifying if and how the material could be processed within the Charlottesville-area would reduce the environmental transportation impacts and could potentially reduce program costs.

Get Updates about Composting in Charlottesville

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