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Community composting efforts are growing as people look to reduce trash and food waste

green waste hauler seen inside a wooden fencing with compost sign listing rules
Tana Weingartner
Colerain Township recently upgraded its compost collecting station with wooden fencing to protect the waste haulers from the wind.

It's been almost a year since Colerain Township implemented a community-funded composting initiative, becoming the first locally to do so, according to Hamilton County R3source. Wyoming instituted a similar program in April, and — just in time for International Compost Awareness Week — The Common Orchard Project in Camp Washington is debuting a community compost program this week.

"It reduces the amount of organic waste that goes into the landfill, and that's a good thing because the organic waste is what causes methane emissions," says Debbie Potzner, Colerain Township event coordinator. "It's just a good thing to do."

Colerain got a grant in April 2022 from Hamilton County R3source to create the program. Residents can pick up a free composting bucket and empty it any time at the designated composting station behind the Colerain Township Senior Center on Springdale Road.

The township reports it has collected more than 3,250 pounds of food waste so far. It also recently added wooden fencing around the composting station to protect the waste haulers from being knocked over by the wind.

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Potzner says Colerain is looking to grow the program.

"We think it's a good program. Especially now that we have the area pretty much set up the way we want, we're going to start advertising a little more and try to get more community involvement," she says.

Since taking on running the program, Potzner says she's started composting, too.

"It's actually quite addicting. Once you start, it's hard to stop," she says with a smile in her voice. "You feel guilty throwing that in the garbage instead of in the compost bin."

Potzner says offering community-wide composting makes it easier for people who want to limit what they send to landfills, but don't have the time or wherewithal to maintain a home compost system.

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"I think most people realize that composting is good, but if you're doing at-home composting, it is a little time consuming. Our program helps you to be able to compost without all the trouble," Potzner says.

She notes the township's program is able to accept more types of compostable materials than a backyard compost, "including things like stale baked goods, even meat and items like that that you can't do in your own backyard composting."

Colerain contracts with GoZero Services, a nonprofit food waste collection and compost service based in Zanesfield, OH (between Bellefontaine and Marysville). GoZero collects food waste, composts it and sells the nutrient-rich results.

Composting in Hamilton County

There are more than 25 recognized food scrap drop-off sites around Hamilton County where people can sign up to use the service. The agency expects that number to increase. A company called CompostNow also offers a home pick-up option.

"In 2021, residential and commercial sources rescued or composted 13,483 tons and industrial sources diverted 65,556 tons of food," reports Tony Staubach, food waste diversion coordinator for Hamilton County R3source.

Numbers for 2022 are still being finalized.

Communities or HOAs sometimes put restrictions on backyard composting, such as not allowing meat or only allowing certain types of containers. Staubach says the agency has taught more than 3,000 Hamilton County residents how to compost in their backyards since 2012, and nearly 400 people have participated in seminars in 2022/2023 alone.

Some residents are banding together to cost-share composting options. Staubach points to a group of neighbors in Mariemont that are creating a membership-funded community compost collection.

RELATED: Hamilton County solid waste rules revised in what critics call a 'defeat for public input'

The agency works with Cincinnati's Office of Environment and Sustainability "to educate consumers on how to reduce food waste and support small-scale community composting efforts," Staubach notes.

It has also launched an effort to reduce food waste. The Wasted Food Stops With Us campaign aims to cut down on the amount of food that goes to waste by encouraging people to shop with a list, serve wholesome food, store food safely and share with their community.

Updated: May 8, 2023 at 4:02 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include the community compost program in Camp Washington.
Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.