Latest Dirt on Philadelphia: Council explores composting food waste

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Authorized by City Council in June to hold hearings on the benefits - and feasibility - of pursuing residential food waste recycling in the city, two council committees waded in Wednesday afternoon with witnesses, bags of finished compost, and paeans on the virtues of dirt.

City recycling director Phil Bresee may have put a damper on things when he noted that immediately starting citywide collection of food waste would cost about $37 million a year.

But those already involved in food waste composting - from the Philadelphia Prison System to a Drury Street Irish pub called McGillin's Ale House to University City's food recycling project, the Dirt Factory - injected more than two hours of testimony with enthusiasm.

Ned Foley, owner of Two Particular Acres, a composting business in Montgomery County, told the council members that he was already accepting a lot of food waste from city businesses and sending it back as soil, but that given the long found trip, "you're paying for it to take a ride."

Students at the city's W.B. Saul agricultural high school has diverted 967 tons of waste in the last 12 months, said Scott Blunk, who works with the program. "It has not left the farm." They partner with coffee shops, a school cafeteria and the Philadelphia Zoo.

When students learned how hot a pile of material gets during the composting process, they decided to try baking sweet potatoes in the pile. It worked. It's unclear whether they actually ate them afterward.

"I never thought I would be so excited about dirt," said Councilwoman Cindy Bass, a Democrat from the 8th District in Northwest Philadelphia who introduced the resolution.

Before the hearing concluded, she and Councilwoman At-Large Blondell Reynolds-Brown agreed to sign up for the curb-side pick-up service of Bennett Compost. The company so far has 1,400 households paying $15 a month to separate their food scraps and leave them in a Bennett bin - evidence of public support, said owner Tim Bennett.

"We can have a bin at your house tomorrow," he told the councilwomen, "and collect it Monday."

Sandy Bauers, Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist

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