Local groups look to reduce food waste, saying compost facilities lag behind in Ohio
Local farmers, anti-hunger advocates and policymakers are exploring ways to reduce food waste in Montgomery County. The groups recently gathered at the Dayton Foodbank to discuss the challenges of establishing more compost facilities.
According to Montgomery Solid Waste District officials, about 16-18% of waste that ends up in Montgomery County landfills is food waste. That's close to 150,000 tons a year. The reasons why that food ends up in landfills are many, but they could include spoilage, logistics problems or a lack of labor at farms or other supply chains.
The U.S. EPA estimates each year, gasses produced by food waste equal 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. There’s also a significant amount of methane and nitrous oxide that’s released because of rotting food in landfills.
The Dayton Foodbank — which is one of three licensed food composting facilities in Montgomery County — started its compost program in 2019 as a way to divert its own spoiled food waste from landfills. The nonprofit also collects scraps through its compost bucket program.
The Foodbank’s farm manager, James Hoffer, said cost is a major reason why there’s so few regional composting facilities, though they’re willing to take the risk to show it can work, especially in urban cores like Dayton.
“Big picture wise, we were willing to take the risk to say composting can be a very acceptable neighbor,” Hoffer said. “And with the hopes that residents and our elected officials and people that are in the positions of power to make those decisions say 'Yes, we should be doing this on a county wide effort, on a regional wide effort.'”
John Minear, the community outreach and education manager for Montgomery County Environmental Services, said the Midwest is lagging behind other parts of the country in composting. He added that's partly due to the average price of landfilling is between $35 to $45 a ton per person.
“It’s a significantly lower cost to landfill that product than it is to build the infrastructure and then to operate that infrastructure to compost food waste,” Minear said.
Minear explained that the county is exploring ways to reduce food waste. He added work is underway to establish a public food waste dropoff program. Though figuring out the cost and logistics will take time.
“The infrastructure is one of the bigger challenges,” Minear stated. “But there are ways to overcome that. There are some federal and state grants that we will be seeking to assist with the procurement of those assets to be able to make them more affordable.”
He said the immediate focus is on educating people on methods they can use to reduce their food waste and where to find local privately-owned food composting programs in the county.
Hoffer said the Dayton Foodbank's bucket composting program, which has grown to about 250 participants and is near its maximum capacity is proof enough that there’s local support for more programs like these and that they’re worth investing in.
“We would never be able to scale up as a food rescue serving hungry neighbors,” Hoffer said. "So what we hope is that Montgomery County, the City of Dayton, these are the reins that they would need to pick up.”
Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.