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Our View: Durango composting success depends on economy of scale

Buy-in from most residents would be needed

Compost, rich with nutrients to rejuvenate soil, is brown gold for gardens and farms.

Food scraps transform into living soil, isolating carbon from the atmosphere and directing it into the earth to support plant health and microscopic life. This means better health for humans through the food we eat.

But the dark side is that when in the landfill, organic waste creates methane emissions. Food waste doesn’t decompose properly and those nutrients are lost.

About 20% of residential and 26% of commercial waste in Durango is actual food waste, and this is striking. That’s a lot of space to take up in landfills that eventually fill. Juxtaposed to this are the 830 customers who recently joined Table to Farm Compost, which indicates Durango may be ripe for citywide composting.

These numbers mean something.

We are on the same trajectory as back in the day when putting aluminum cans, plastic, glass and cardboard into recycling bins was novel to a lot of people. Now, recycling is part of our waste management.

We hope, one day, composting is equally ubiquitous, with compost buckets next to recycling bins. But we’re not there yet. More studies and surveys must be done, more analysis and public engagement, policies set and doubters won over.

We have a ways to go.

But no matter what those efforts produce, the success of citywide composting comes down to an economy of scale. Costs must be spread among many with production made efficient. The only equation that works is for most Durango residents to get behind this. Table to Farm charges $28 a month to pick up and process food waste. But survey results show about $15 is more of a doable price point.

Already, Durango has its share of passionate backyard composters, having grown vibrant soil for years. Within this same sect, though, many aren’t keen on paying for this service. Others are indifferent or skeptical.

But beyond the degree of connection – or disconnection – to food sources, community composting is an overlooked piece of waste management.

The portion of the lodgers tax fund reserved for discretionary funding could be used for citywide composing. Of course, this is up to City Council, which means it’s up to residents to advise them on what to do. Already, councilors have signaled support at looking closer at options for city code revisions and budget allocations. Good news.

Currently, the section of municipal code concerning waste management, trash and recycling services does not include or define organic waste management. So Council doesn’t have legal authority to set service fees for composting.

But, again, those local figures show promise. The quarter of the landfill stuffed with organic waste along with the 830 happy composting customers highlight a moment in time when change can happen. Besides, there’s something about putting egg shells and veggie skins and scraps into a compost bucket in our kitchens that feels like we’re doing something quiet but worthwhile and forward-thinking.

And digging hands into the end product, that earthy fragranced composted soil, sure is a great antidote to sitting in front of computer screens.

One significant challenge to composting is contamination. If plastic or glass ends up in a load of compost, it can’t be sorted easily. The load could even be ruined.

Greenhouse gases, like methane and carbon dioxide, lead to climate change, depending on concentrations, longevity and heat-trapping characteristics. In the Southwest, impacts of climate change are expected. No reason to bring us closer, sooner.

Citywide composting would set Durango on track to meet one of its benchmarks for 2030 and 2050 to reduce these greenhouse gas emissions.

But in the end, it comes down to beliefs and values. For citywide composting to be successful, it can only be a true community-wide endeavor with all hands in.