The Case for Compost

Residential composting service becomes an unexpected result of the pandemic

A drive down any residential street on trash day in the week between Christmas and New Year's can cause an uncomfortable pang of cognitive dissonance. Green and blue bins stuffed to the brim with heaps of wrapping paper and excess leftovers serve both as proof of how much we love each other and as a reminder of our disgraceful wastefulness.

Now that the holidays are over, 'tis the season for setting new goals and intentions for the year ahead, including the beautifully simple resolution to produce less waste.

"Around 40% of household waste is compostable," says composting business and farm Reunity Resources Program Director Juliana Ciano. "So if there is any one action you can take to reduce your trash output, composting is the most meaningful thing you can do."

The small local business started a new residential doorstep composting program in April in an effort to survive the pandemic. Now, the program's growing success has inspired the farm to take even more steps to make composting easily accessible to Santa Fe residents.

In October, it tweaked the doorstep program to offer every-other-week as well as weekly pickup options. Last month, operators set up a new food scraps drop-off area outside of the main gate at San Ysidro Crossing that is accessible 24/7.

Before the pandemic, Reunity Resources processed around 100,000 pounds of food scraps a month. The vast majority came from its commercial pick-up service for schools and restaurants. The final product—compost—was one of the company's primary sources of revenue and supported its Farm Food Donation Program that partnered with local organizations and food banks to get fresh produce onto the plates of hungry New Mexicans.

As soon as the pandemic hit, says Ciano, she watched participation in the compost program drop by more than 80%.

"We immediately knew we had to start doing something new," she says. "All of that food waste was still out there, just in different places."

People had stopped eating out, but they hadn't stopped eating food. The waste that previously went into the Reunity Resources compost pile from restaurants and schools was going into residential trash cans instead, and so the company started to try to bring some of it back to the farm.

When done right, the composting process turns food scraps into nutrient rich soil without producing any harmful byproducts. Yet, most of our kitchen refuse ends up in landfills where instead it turns into rotting sludge and releases climate warming greenhouse gases such as methane.

Research by Project Drawdown, a nonprofit that works on climate solutions, puts reducing food waste close to the top of the list of urgent climate actions. Partly that's because, according to the United Nations, food waste accounts for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally. The issue is big enough that in 2020 UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed designated Sept. 29 as the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste.

A lot of this waste happens in farmers fields, in food processing plants, in grocery stores, and at many other points along the way before it gets to your fridge. Still, Americans waste enough food at home that figuring out how to mitigate these impacts is worth it.

Pam Walker has been using Reunity Resources' doorstep collection since the program started in April, and says the system "could not be easier." She keeps the sealed collection container provided by the farm under her counter in the slot that used to be occupied by her trash can. Walker has reduced her trash output to the point that in an average week she can fit all her trash into a single blue New York Times newspaper bag.

Walker moved to Santa Fe from Texas four years ago, where she was an avid home composter and local food and farm advocate. In the arid high desert climate of Santa Fe, where it takes much longer for decaying matter to break down, she says her home composting efforts bore unsatisfactorily mixed results.

"If you're a home composter, you very likely cannot compost the range of material that Reunity Resources does," she says, "things like tea bags and coffee filters, avocados and citrus peels and animal bones. If you can't heat your compost to the high temperatures and use the precision that a commercial composting operation does then there's a lot of stuff that you can't compost, so it still goes into the landfill."

Ciano tells SFR that Reunity Resources can compost "almost anything that once was alive." That includes untreated paper products, animal products and BPI certified compostable products.

Reunity asks those who would like to use the food-scrap dropoff service to sign up for a membership based on an annual sliding scale fee between $10 and $25 at The doorstep collection program costs $36 a month for weekly service or $20 a month for every other week and comes with a 4-gallon compost bucket and two bags of premium compost a year.

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