Shaded from the pounding summer heat, Jody Cook preached to a crowd of 20 people on the benefits of home composting Saturday morning outside of Clovers Natural Market in Columbia. “Why should we compost? Well, composting reduces waste,” she said. “It’s nature’s way of recycling.”
Cook, who works as the volunteer coordinator for Columbia’s waste management programs, took over the city’s mostly defunct composting workshops in 2015. For more than 15 years, the city had been hosting the workshops for residents, she said, but often to low turnout. Today, those same workshops bring in an average of 20 people per event, with some wrangling as many as 40 or 50 participants.
“Attendance has gone way up,” Cook said. “When I first started, some of the workshops had two or three people in them.”
Cook chalks up that growth to better promotion from the city, but the recent surge of interest may also indicate shifting priorities for Columbia’s residents as the city begins planning ways to reduce its energy usage to mitigate rising temperatures, and as composting continues to become a cheaper option for both municipalities and residents.
In 2017, food waste made up more than 17 percent, or 34,000 tons, of the material entering Columbia’s landfill, according to a press release the city issued last month. Last year, Columbia and Boone County residents spent approximately $1.7 million for excess food waste that could have been otherwise diverted, the release stated.
At Saturday’s workshop, Cook talked about a popular myth that composting takes a lot of energy and money, and promoted tips for composting on the cheap like using old coffee cans to collect food waste rather than buying commercial bins. “It can be as expensive as you want, or as cheap as you want,” she said.
Several participants at the event expressed a desire to start personal composting efforts to help the environment, but also as a way to save money.
Columbia resident Derek Kratzer said starting his own compost instead of buying compost from the store made a lot of sense. He and his wife started a flower garden at their home last year, he said, and spent about $50 on store-bought compost for it.
That’s money they could have saved if they made their own compost, Kratzer said, which is one of the reasons he and his wife came to Saturday’s workshop. “I thought, ‘If I’m just going to throw away all this food, I might as well make use of it,’” he said.
Nick and Jennifer Griswold said the same thing. The two recently started a garden at their Columbia home, where they grow things like cucumbers, lettuce and watermelons. Last year, they also spent about $50 on compost. “It’d be easier to use food waste than buying a bunch from the store,” Nick Griswold said.
But saving money is just a bonus, Jennifer Griswold said, and in the end it’s still about helping the environment. “For us, it’s the biggest part,” she said, “reducing as much as we can of what goes into the landfill.”
Currently, the city offers food waste collection for commercial properties like restaurants and grocery stores, but not for residential properties. So, for now, composting at home may be the only option for Columbia homeowners.
Patricia Weisenfelder, a spokesperson for the city, said that while the city has seen increased interest in a residential program, it may still be some time before Columbia adopts one because of logistical challenges, such as a lack of resources and public awareness. But that doesn’t mean the city isn’t considering it for the future, she said.
“We’re exploring ways to both encourage people to … compost on their own property, as well as exploring options to possibly offer some type of drop-off location in town,” Weisenfelder said.
Until then, Cook said, there’s always the city’s workshops, which continue to maintain popularity. “We do them at all different times and different locations, but we’re able to maintain the attendance rate,” she said. “And that’s something I’m really proud of actually.”
Then next workshop is scheduled for June 23 at Daniel Boone Library. A full list of the composting workshops can be found on the city’s calendar.