A couple of weeks ago, we published a blog post, “The ‘Final Recycling Frontier’”, about a New York Times report on NYC’s efforts to divert organic refuse from landfills to compost sites and biogas generators. Washington DC is also beginning to compost. The District is using composting to improve its infrastructure, save money, and become more environmentally friendly. Two recently published articles highlight DC’s composting efforts. The first one, published on www.waste360.com, takes a look at DC’s plan to build its composting infrastructure. The second article, published on www.fortune.com, is about how DC’s water management agency is turning sewage into compost.

Washington DC has ambitious goals for diverting its solid waste: 80 percent by 2032. With organics making up a large proportion of that waste, composting is a key component of DC’s plan. However, there are currently only two composting facilities within 40 miles of the city and these facilities do not have the capacity to process even a fraction of DC’s organic waste. Further, DC would have to establish a transportation network and transfer station to get the compost from doorsteps to the composting facilities which would be very costly. It turns out that building a compost site within the District itself would be more economical and efficient than outsourcing the composting job to remote waste management companies.

Washington DC’s residents are enthusiastically supporting community composting efforts, thanks in part to community outreach programs. DC’s Public School District already composts cafeteria waste at 60 different public schools. Community gardens across the city compost garden and food scraps. Additionally, the Public Works Department helps neighborhoods establish and maintain community composting by talking to residents and answering their questions on establishing and maintaining composting operations.

DC is using the proven organic collection and composting programs of other cities and towns as models for their own organic waste disposal reforms. If an inner-city aerobic composting facility is built by 2023, as a recent feasibility study suggests is possible, then Washington DC will soon become a model for other medium-sized US cities.

With any luck, DC politicians will be composting their food waste in the near future. Hopefully, this first hand experience will encourage a more concerted, unified push for smart environmental policy and infrastructure plan. Even if the inner-city composting site does not incite major political reform, it will demonstrate that municipal composting can be done within city limits.

Washington DC is doing more than composting food waste. The District’s water management agency, DC Water, is turning sewage‒the stuff you flush down the toilet‒into compost. According to the Fortune article, DC’s water infrastructure is in real need of repairs and expects to spend $1 billion in repairs in the next few years. The article explains that, along with much of the country’s crumbling infrastructure, water-treatment facilities nationwide are in a bad state of disrepair. The agencies that manage this infrastructure need ways to cut costs and streamline operations so that they can divert some funds to repair or replace aging infrastructure. DC Water is accomplishing this task by composting.

The three-stage process used by DC Water to convert biosolids into compost also produces methane gas that ultimately powers a third of the water plant’s operations. DC Water sells its compost to gardeners and arborists as a potent soil fertilizer called Bloom. The revenue that the agency makes from selling Bloom will be used to make the repairs to DC’s plumbing necessary to keep the city functioning; some of the city’s piping dates back to 1860.

DC Water invested in composting initiatives to ensure clean water and an operational plumbing system in the future. DC’s department of Public Works will soon be diverting organic residuals from landfills to compost, making urban living more sustainable in the long-term. Innovations like DC Water’s and DC Public Works’ are good examples of how closing the consumption and disposal loop can create a more self-sufficient and sustainable business model. These sorts of sustainable innovations in the public sector are necessary to keep America’s infrastructure functional.

Read more about DC’s plan to build its composting infrastructure,


Read more about DC Water’s recycled sewage infrastructure,