I recently sent out a compliance notice to a homeowner in my community for what I thought was a garbage bin left out in plain view, and in violation of our CC&Rs. I was informed by the homeowner that it was a composting bin, a fact which they served to me with a measure of snark equal to the amount of slop in the bin, I’m sure, along with an implicit accusation that the HOA was not supporting the homeowner going green. Really, the issue is not with composting in this instance; if the bin were placed out of sight, no one would even know about it…or care. However, the homeowner’s attempt to turn the citation into something it wasn’t, an argument about the environment, got me thinking about composting specifically, and in more general terms, how the community might be more supportive of eco-friendly initiatives. I went down the rabbit’s hole researching composting, and even decided to start doing it myself (but there will be no bucket of slop in my yard!). Here’s some of what I learned, and some things for HOAs to watch out for as homeowners “go green”.Composting and Stats:
So, it turns out there are some BIG numbers associated with compostable waste. Here are a few stats I found shocking:
167 Million – The number of TONS of garbage sent to landfills and incinerators in the US every year
1200 – Pounds of organic, compostable garbage thrown out on average by each American every year
50% - Amount of garbage sent to landfills that is compostable
31% - Amount of the food supply that ends up in landfills
2 – Multiplier of jobs in composting over landfills
4 – Multiplier of jobs in composting over incinerators
There are many more thought-provoking statistics regarding trash worth a look via the links at the end of this post and simple internet searches. I encourage you to do a little research of your own and rethink some of your household habits.
Food waste will decompose whether in composting bins or landfills, so why does it matter where? The main difference between composting and landfilling when it comes to organic waste is the byproducts produced in decomposition. Organics buried in a landfill off-gas a significant amount of methane as they decompose, whereas organics composted in the presence of oxygen don’t produce methane and when added to soil as an amendment, can actually help sequester carbon dioxide. Methane has a much higher capacity for trapping heat than carbon dioxide, so preventing methane emissions is critically important to protecting the environment.
The “how” of composting is simple, with several easy options:
- Sign up for composting with your municipality, if offered. Many cities offer composting bins for organic solid waste pickup. The contents of these bins are collected for processing at composting facilities. Be sure to store these bins out of sight from neighboring properties, and read this about odor management (hint, it’s all about balance of materials and air exposure; if the compost stinks to high heaven, it probably isn’t getting enough air): Compost Smells Bad
- Compost in your own backyard. There are many “how-to” videos and articles online with tips on how to compost household organic waste for use in your garden. The EPA has a helpful article available at: Composting at Home.
- Compost in your kitchen/garage with an automatic composting machine. I found a company in the process of exploring this topic called Foodcycler, which produces a countertop machine for small batch composting. It uses very little energy and produces compost for your garden in a 3-hour cycle. I’ll be tossing food scraps after preparing a meal into this thing instead of the trash can. More info here: TheFoodCycler (This is the option I’m looking forward to trying, instead of letting banana peels and eggshells rot in my yard!)
Community Support for Going Green:
Organizing events around eco-friendly initiatives can help build a sense of community while benefiting the environment. Here are a few ideas for the HOA to show support for environmental issues:
Community Yard Sale: Bring neighbors out on a weekend to mingle and promote reuse of old items. An added bonus is that by consolidating yard sales to a single, perhaps periodic community event will reduce random sales by homeowners (which might be against community rules) and traffic that comes with them.
Trash Pickup: Enlist volunteers from the homeowner roster for a neighborhood sweep and litter cleanup from common areas.
Educational Events: Invite local experts in things like composting or drought tolerant plants for xeriscaping to present information to homeowners in the community.
Board members and managers will need to keep up with everchanging laws regarding homeowners and their efforts to go green. For example, in Arizona, HOAs are not allowed by state law to deny the installation of residential solar arrays. They may be able to impose certain requirements, but not ban installation outright. In Colorado, a number of eco activities have been protected under the umbrella of water conservation, including residential composting.
As with anything else, communication is key. I’ve learned that rather than single homeowners out whose green practices infringe on the HOA rules, I can try to build on their passion for the environment to get them more involved and invested in the community.