Time to Build Compost: Rhode Island Unnecessarily Shortening Life of Wasted Food

By ANTONIA BRYSON

There is a lot going on in Rhode Island at the grassroots level to help people and businesses segregate their wasted food and get it put to beneficial reuse through composting. Newport and Providence, in particular, have active projects engaging wasted food generators, connecting them with haulers, and getting the material to existing composting sites. Other towns, and many schools, have evinced great interest in doing the same.

Unfortunately, experience shows that all this interest and enthusiasm isn’t likely to be sufficient to induce the creation of composting facilities. Currently, the state has the longstanding facility at Earth Care Farm in Charlestown, a community site at the Providence-based Southside Community Land Trust, and a relatively recent but growing facility in North Smithfield, but is sorely lacking in sufficient capacity to handle the amount of wasted food that goes to the Central Landfill in Johnston daily.

Other states, which are invested in better managing the wasted-food portion of their garbage, have adopted policies that recognize the high cost of undertaking a sizable composting operation needs to be mitigated for the supply to grow. These policies include revolving-loan funds, help with siting, such as transfer of underutilized state land, guaranteed markets for the end product through government contracts, and grant funding. Rhode Island has no such policies.

What Rhode Island doesn’t need is any revision to its existing composting regulations. These regulations were modeled on those in Massachusetts, and have been successful there, in conjunction with the policies just mentioned, as well as an investment in technical assistance to smooth the way, in fostering a more robust supply of composting sites. To stifle Rhode Island’s progress so far by advocating for tighter standards, with an illusory promise of financial advantage from carbon credits, is the wrong advice at this time.

We ought to capture the grassroots enthusiasm and focus high-level attention on what measures incentivizing compost operators might be right for Rhode Island.

Some 100,000 tons of wasted food goes to the landfill every year, to no good purpose, unnecessarily shortening its life. Let’s take a cue from what other states have done and help create the composting market here.

Antonia Bryson is a member of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council.