Somerville Gets Knee Deep In the Idea of a Curbside Composting Program

They want volunteers to help them figure out the mess by forming a task force.

Bring out your compost! Bring out your compost!

Well, not yet. But Somerville officials are hopeful that one day city residents will be able to plop their stinky piles of recycled foods on the curbside for weekly collection.

On Tuesday, an email went out asking those interested in lending a hand in crafting a viable composting pickup option to come forward to offer expertise on the topic. Furthering its commitment to sustainability surrounding trash and recycling policies, the city decided its time to form a task force to explore the possibility of a “Curbside Composting Initiative,” the notice said.

“The Task Force will be commissioned to research best practices for curbside composting, and provide recommendations on implementation in Somerville, including rollout, storage, disposal policies, and general regulations,” city officials said.

The Task Force will consist of up to nine members, and will be headed by Mayor Joe Curtatone, and Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz, vice chairperson of the Board of Aldermen’s Committee on Energy and Environment.

Those that are looking to get their hands dirty, while also sorting through the various programs that could be implemented in Somerville, are being asked to submit a letter of intent to Jackie Rossetti in the Office of Sustainability and Environment. The letter should be accompanied by a resume or short personal statement detailing a person’s interest and applicable skills.

“We are committed to a healthy, sustainable, and environmentally friendly city and we are also committed to seeking smart cost-savings, and curbside composting can help us reach both of those goals,” said Curtatone in a statement.

Somerville already has a Zero-Sort Recycling program, which Curtatone claims has dramatically increased recycling rates across Somerville. He said he hopes that rolling out a community-wide curbside composting program will increase trash diversion options for residents while lowering solid waste disposal costs to taxpayers. “We also want to be sure this program emulates the needs and opinions of the community at large, which is why we have convened a task force to examine this program,” he said.

The idea for a curbside pickup came from repeated calls from residents for the city to enact change.

Having a composting option in play could reduce the amount of food waste the city contributes to public landfills. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data crunched by officials showed that Somerville churns out 5,200 tons of food waste annually —or roughly 130 pounds per person—which costs the city $750,000 per year for removal and disposal.

The email sent out to the community said once formed, over a several month review period the task force will examine those numbers, as well as ideas to figure out whether or not a composting program could benefit Somerville.

Somerville isn’t the only city exploring the option, either. While not as aggressive as forming a task force, Boston officials filed a proposal last March that eyed whether or not a composting program would be a good fit for residents. Shortly after, a three-month pilot was rolled out that allowed residents to drop off compost at select locations.

Besides that, Boston already has a program that collects compost from businesses and households, but it isn’t run or funded by the city. Jamaica Plain-based startup Bootstrap Compost takes trips around Boston by bike, picking up food waste from constituents and contracted business owners.

Cambridge also kicked off a feasibility study last year which included plans to introduce a compost collection program with curbside pickup at more than 800 participating households.

City-run curbside composting programs have existed in over 90 cities in the country, some for decades, including Portland, Oregon, Seattle, and San Francisco.