Springfield's Residential Compost Collection Service
I moved to Missouri as part of a dream to establish a small farm. I am passionate about the quality of food and quality of life provided by such a pastoral setting. I see a place where chickens are pecking the grass and eating the diet they are supposed to in natural foraging. See my daughter hunting for interesting things or inspecting bits of life she finds as she meanders in child-like bliss around the land. I see a place where I can grow fresh, clean food and that all life is thriving in every corner of my little eden. I have hopes that such a vision can become part of the mainstream.
Even though not everyone wants to live on a farm and tend to the endless list of chores and projects that innately comes with that life, I believe it IS possible for the philosophy of regenerative farming to extend beyond the farm.
Regenerative farming is just as it sounds, a system that promotes the stewardship and regeneration of ecology through practices that care for the land and water sources. At the heart of it all is the basic and primal nature of the life cycle. We sow plants and tend to them and then harvest (aka kill) them to fuel our bodies. All beings in nature complete this same basic set of processes. All the way down to the billions of micro-organisms that live in our environments and on our bodies. In fact, these microbes are incredibly important in that cycle. If those microbes are not present in our soils, these soils become sick and weak and do not produce the richly nutritious foods that humans and animals need. You will find that those working in this regenerative practice are obsessed with dirt and microbes.
I had the opportunity to chat with one such individual, Justine Campbell, board president of the Compost Collective right here in Springfield. The Compost Collective began because Justine and a partner wanted to start up a regenerative farm, and in order to do that, they were going to need a lot of compost. So Justine set out to canvas area businesses and residents to collect food scraps that she could use to create rich soils. During the course of this, the idea of the Springfield Compost Collective came into being and is now the focus of Justine’s goals. She and her colleagues run the non-profit collective with the goal of keeping the life cycle flowing properly, which means using compostable waste to make soil and keeping it out of the landfill.
Landfills are NOT composting environments. Things that would naturally decompose, cannot efficiently do so in a landfill environment. So all the biodegradable materials we put in there can’t break down efficiently and actually contribute massive volumes of toxic waste and greenhouse gasses by being stuck in these anaerobic piles. By shifting the waste cycle of food scraps and yard waste to a composting facility, we can cut those numbers down significantly. The EPA’s last detailed report in 2018 shows that food waste is the 4th largest component of municipal solid waste, coming in at 21.6% or 63.1 million tons per year. According to public records, the Springfield landfill received approximately 283,000 tons of trash in 2019, and food waste was about 34,000 TONS of that. While Noble Hill landfill does promote recycling, education, and has a greenhouse gas energy capture system, it would be even better if that amount of food waste could be significantly reduced and used in a more beneficial capacity to give back to the community through soil regeneration and food growth.
The Compost Collective group wants to do just that in our community. They went through all the red tape to get proper licensing for collecting waste; they have established a means of routine collection in Springfield, and they are eager to make the organization thrive. The website for the collective is https://www.springfieldcompostcollective.org, and there, visitors can learn more about the items that can be composted and how to sign up for their service.
I was excited when I happened by one of their signs in town. I rent, and so it is difficult to set up a composting situation that can be contained and even mobile if needed - since the next residents and my landlord may not want me leaving a pile of half decomposed bits behind when I move. I know there are lots of folks in the same boat. I also had a brief stay in an apartment complex when I first came to the area, and felt SO guilty about putting my food scraps in the trash, but really had no other choice. The service offered by the SCC fills a truly vital need in changing those damaging urban limitations so that every citizen can be a part of the solution. Springfield has a healthy recycling effort, but it does not cover the bio materials, so this collective rounds out the work of keeping landfilled items to a minimum when citizens participate.
Justine and the other members of the board chose to be a non-profit organization because they wanted the work to be a community effort, a task done because it is the beneficial thing to do, rather than a business where the main goal is to grow a bottom line. They want to elevate the communal processes of a grassroots movement and of changing the paradigms we live by. The world will not change by policy and politics alone; it takes neighbors working together, doing the little things, to make change happen. Each drop in the bucket is one step closer to realizing a dream of ecological stewardship and healthy food systems for people. The compost collection gets citizens involved in rerouting the waste stream, helping to clean up the environment and participating in the natural life cycle of food. It is part of reconnecting people to the fundamental realities of the biological world we are dependent upon.
Currently, the SCC is partnering with another facility to turn the scraps collected into compost. This partner is not charging the collective for this work, so the funds from the subscription service can be used to keep the organization going. Composting is surprisingly expensive, largely because of the space and time required to house the biological process. This is one of the reasons why large-scale compost facilities are limited around the country and why landfills continue to dominate the waste stream models. The partner facility, working with SCC, uses the profit from selling the organic compost to fund the process of creating it.
The Springfield Compost Collective is working towards a goal of processing their own compost so that they can use the end product in community endeavors and as a source of funding to continue to grow the collective and alter the waste stream in Springfield. In order to achieve that goal, they need to get more people on-board with the service. This year’s goal is 150 residential subscribers and 50 commercial subscriptions. Right now, they have 50 residents and 15 businesses. The goal is attainable and I hope readers will connect with the effort and sign up. The problems we see in our communities are only going to change by local efforts, not by the government. Each member of a community has the ability to make small moves to affect big change, and joining this collective is one of those little efforts. It takes no extra time to scrape your plates into the SCC bucket than it does to scrape it into the trash, so I implore you to consider participating.
One of the biggest concerns people have with composting is they are dealing with rotting food scraps. This notion has a powerful ability to turn people away, but truly, this should not be the nasty, stinky mess many envision. Bugs and animals will only invade your pile if it is an unhealthy one. The same is true of the scraps buckets. When I spoke to Justine about this issue, she reminded me that it’s the anaerobic bacteria that causes putrefaction (nasty smell) vs the aerobic breakdown that should be happening to create compost. In your own compost pile, be sure it is getting enough air and that enough carbon (brown material) is added. “You always have to keep carbon touching your food scraps in order to keep the balance correct and keep the pile healthy,” Justine explained.
Here are a couple of ways you can manage your compost collection bucket to keep the “ickies” at bay. First, the bucket doesn’t need to sit in your kitchen. I keep a coffee container in my kitchen for food scraps. This small container then gets emptied into the larger scrap bucket from the compost collective each day when we clean up the dinner mess. The SCC bucket is out on the step in the garage, but it could also be kept just out the back door. This keeps the “mess” out of my kitchen. The coffee container is rinsed each day, so everything is kept tidy and no bugs in the kitchen, and it's convenient. The coffee can is right there on the counter and as I am cooking, I just toss the bits in, easy-peasy. The larger SCC bucket is sealed and tucked away where it is not a problem.
However, if your bucket begins to attract insects or smell significantly before pick up day, it’s because anaerobic bacteria is forming. Try treating the bucket like a mini compost pile. Keep a bag of pelletized wood shavings near your bucket. These will be a compact source of carbon and you can add a couple of handfuls each time you add food to the bucket. Be sure to get your pellets from a farm store; these should be bedding pellets (like for horse stalls and such) not stove pellets (there’s chemicals in those). These pellets are really good at soaking up moisture, which will also help keep the bucket from getting too wet from the food scraps. Remember compost needs air, so contrary to instinct, try keeping your bucket open, or at least not sealed. These small things should keep the anaerobic bacteria and their unpleasant side effects from being a problem.
The more people and businesses that sign up, the fewer pounds of waste goes to waste in the landfill. Instead it stays in the ecological cycle and gets used to make food for the soil so that humans can also have better food. Your food will not only taste better when grown in rich, healthy soils, but will also have a stronger nutritional profile. The vitamins and minerals our food is supposed to contain only happens because those things are present in the dirt the plants grow in and are able to absorb. Engaging in conscientious waste management through recycling and composting keeps our planet healthy and keeps people healthy.
You can sign up for the compost collection service through the https://www.springfieldcompostcollective.org website. The group also has the option for neighbors to sponsor a community bin. This might be an ideal way for groups or apartment complexes to work together on the composting goal. The collective has these bins, and would like to expand their availability, so that economic limitations are not an issue for individuals to be able to participate in this beneficial practice.
Justine will also gladly conduct workshops about composting. The Springfield Compost Collective’s mission is to educate and facilitate an ecologically sound waste stream as a regenerative act for our soils and our food. Whether you and a few friends would like to know more about gardening and composting, or you have a formal organization or club, Justine and her colleagues would be delighted to speak with you and help.
This is a very exciting endeavor, and I am happy to be able to promote the collective and help them reach their goals!