Sustainability Efforts Ramp Up in Urbana

Photo | Patsy Beckman Properly composted organic waste is a commodity, which can be sold at garden centers, home improvement stores, or used in residents’ own backyards to promote sustainability.

Photo | Patsy Beckman
Properly composted organic waste is a commodity, which can be sold at garden centers, home improvement stores, or used in residents’ own backyards to promote sustainability.

The time seems right in the Urbana community to use the African proverb: “It takes a village” when trying to achieve critical environmental advances. Many leaders and residents believe further education and action is needed on the part of their neighbors.

They are looking for alternatives to disposing food waste into an out-of-state landfill. They have hefty goals of not only decreasing the amount of trash, but eliminating it altogether.

A proposal penned by Villages of Urbana (VOU) residents on composting in the neighborhood
is currently under consideration by the VOU Board with more dialogue coming at its July meeting.

Items such as what foods would be permitted for composting and what bins could be used in a denser neighborhood are being discussed. Joe Richardson, owner and founder of Bar-T, has just wrapped up two successful composting programs at Urbana High School and Urbana Elementary School at Sugarloaf where he teamed up with members of the Southern Frederick County Rotary.

The data Richardson presented to Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) Superintendent Terry Alban shows a profound change. In a five-month period, 9,735 pounds were separated and composted; more than 4,000 pounds of liquids stayed out of trash cans; and 2,115 pounds of items, previously thrown away, were recycled.

“There is no going back now,” he said in hopes of having all FCPS students separating their trash to get the organics out of it. “This is no longer a pilot program. We won’t go back.”

Fourteen schools will dive into the program this fall. Richardson’s hopes are to have 44 schools on board by 2022.

Despite this success, Richardson has his eye on finding solutions to other environmental challenges.

He is troubled by the tremendous amount of food students throw away. “Twenty to forty apples, not eaten, 80 to 100 filled bottles of milk going into the trash. We need to get this food to a food bank. I want to establish a network there to get this food collected and not wasted.”

Another item he is addressing is to work with local parent-teacher associations (PTAs) to discuss reducing the number of plastic sandwich bags that students bring to school. “Parents are making these great lunches, but they are going into the trash,” he said about the apprehension students have returning to their parents with uneaten meals. “If we can get the PTA to promote reusable containers, there is a better chance the food will go back home.”

Next, he’ll lead his tireless environmental charge into the lives of another demographic—senior citizens—and the retirement communities where they make their homes.

“You take food waste and make a commodity. We need to change our behaviors,” he said.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Compost?

Environmental leaders feel efforts at home should parallel what is being done in schools. Katie Esposito’s passion is climate change. Along with pushing used crayon and old marker drives at Centerville Elementary School, Esposito will lead the parent volunteer effort when the school begins composting at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

Esposito, a resident of VOU, is also the president of Friends of the Urbana Regional Library (FURL).

She is launching an initiative to collect used party decorations to resell alongside used books at FURL’s upcoming book sale at the library on Sept. 21 and 22.

“I figure it is true to my personal concerns with sustainability, reflective of the family-centric community we have here, and we will be raising additional funds, which will be poured right back into the library,” said Esposito, who once practiced public health law for the U.S. government.

After reading hundreds of books, articles and stories about climate change, Esposito—now the stay-at-home parent of two—has been apprised of extreme adverse weather, agricultural and mental health conditions that could result from inactivity.

“I am alarmed by what is projected, how little is being done about it, and what problems my children and their peers will inherit because of our inaction,” she said.

What these sustainability ground-breakers want to do is change the current culture of apathy when it comes to the environment.

“I realized right now change is not coming comprehensively or fast enough from the top down—federal government, corporations—but that it can also come from the bottom up.” In her VOU home, Esposito has been hosting sustainability meetings, using less energy, and swapping clothes.

On another front, Megan Hook will join her sister with the opening of their new restaurant,  Pumpernickel + Rye, in Casa Bella Commons this coming summer. The restaurant will offer sandwiches, soups and salads. There will be breakfast items, including bagels; meats and salads; coffee, espresso, fresh pressed juices and smoothies; and there will be a vast grab-and-go section for busy Urbana families.

By striving to eliminate unnecessary waste whenever possible, Hook expects to make a positive influence on her community. “We are focusing on sustainability practices at Pumpernickel + Rye because we care deeply about our local community and environment,” she said. “We want to bring peace of mind that what you bring home to your table was sourced responsibly from our family to yours.”

Following Richardson’s lead at area schools, Pumpernickel + Rye will have a composting program in place. Specific containers will be designated for compostable waste around the building. Key City Compost will remove the waste to produce soil rich in nutrients.

Involved parent-volunteers and sustainability advocates are eager to show students the entire process of how specific waste materials decompose and become a nutrient-rich material that helps plants grow.

Students in the garden club at Urbana Elementary at Sugarloaf planted a new butterfly garden topped off with finished compost that started out as the students’ lunch scraps.

“We just used the county’s compost in a flower garden we planted at Sugarloaf Elementary School,” said volunteer and VOU resident Carey Murphy.

A local, full-service composting company, Key City Compost, co-founded by Phil Westcott, picks up the school’s food waste for composting at an out-of-state facility. Westcott plans to open his new facility in Frederick County later this year. He wants to invigorate government leaders and residents to make changes for the sake of the environment.

“We have seen a lot of growth and support in the last six months,” he said.

Prior to founding Key City Compost, Westcott worked in the environmental sciences where he witnessed first-hand the differences residents could make simply in their own gardens. That is when he decided to start his own composting company in hopes of restricting food waste, creating new soils, saving taxpayer dollars and creating local jobs. “I knew that I could have an impact on a smaller scale,” he said about localized solutions to composting and sustainability and the endeavor he started just over two years ago.

Along with Urbana schools and restaurants like Hook’s, Key City Composting works with residential customers. The company provides a five-gallon bucket for residents to fill with food scraps. The filled bucket is picked up weekly and swapped out for a fresh one before items are composted.

Richardson is now ready to lead the composting charge at all remaining Urbana schools for the 2019-2020 school year—along with all Brunswick schools—and Green Valley, Buttery Ridge, Yellow Springs, North Frederick, Monocacy and Lincoln Elementary Schools. Parent volunteers will be trained this summer in preparation for the fall.

“If we teach students to separate compost, recyclables, liquids and trash, they will teach their parents,” Richardson said. “This is just one piece of a puzzle, but it is a big piece. We really have to change our approach. It is incredibly empowering to teach a child.”

From Garbage to Garden

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in the waste stream.

Annmarie Creamer is an analyst for Frederick County’s Recycling Outreach Program and serves as her department’s public information officer. “While preventing food waste is the best strategy, there will always be a little something left on a plate or that broccoli that got hidden at the bottom of the ‘fridge; we’d love for even those leftovers not to be wasted—especially since most of Frederick County’s waste has to be trucked away for disposal in an out-of-state landfill,” said Creamer.

Creamer is leading an effort to dispel some of the myths circulating about the disadvantages of composting.

This spring, she has spent hours administering free classes and offering tours at the Frederick County Waste Facility for groups of six or more. The classes teach residents how to compost properly.

“The tour itself is eye-opening,” said Murphy, who attended a late-spring session. Residents can view an area where they create compost and mulch from residents’ yard waste that eventually gets sold to the public.

Creamer discussed the status of the almost-full Frederick County landfill, a result of the huge population growth in Urbana as well as other communities. She touts the composting process as “a simple, all-natural process that doesn’t re- quire expert training or advanced education—anyone can do!”

The Frederick County Department of Solid Waste sells GeoBin composters available at wholesale pricing year-round.

“There are bins built to suit different styles and methods that take little or no ongoing maintenance,” Creamer said. You can purchase a compost bin at 9031 Reichs Ford Road Mondays through Fridays from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

The Frederick County Master Gardener volunteers (a program of the University of Maryland) are a team of local residents who field questions and offer their expertise via their office: 301.600.1596, Facebook page, and at local events. The Frederick County Public Library system has a wealth of books on the subject.

“We also offer the ‘Recycle Coach’ app that can quickly answer the question of whether a particular item belongs in a trash can, recycle cart or compost bin,” added Creamer.

Some composting items are stale bread, plain pasta, rinds, pea and bean shells—even paper towels and popsicle sticks.

For more complete composting information, you can sign up for one of the county’s free home composting classes. To register for a scheduled class, request a personalized instructional program on composting for your group or club, or to ask specific questions about your home compost pile, please contact Creamer in the Office of Recycling at ACreamer@FrederickCountyMD.gov or 301.600.7405.

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