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Households Sought for the Great Backyard Compost Challenge

From: Boxerwood, Elise Sheffield; elise@boxerwood.org

Date: Feb. 19, 2021


Households Sought for the Great Backyard Compost Challenge

In tandem with partners, Boxerwood Nature Center will launch a project next month that challenges local families to reduce the amount of food waste going to the landfill. In this pilot study, 60 volunteer households will each be given a free, self-contained, single-unit backyard composter in return for tracking their food waste diversion for three months. The goals of hits citizen-science project are to encourage family learning, promote stewardship, and gather baseline data for future actions. Funding for the project comes from competitive grants awarded by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

“It’s a pretty simple idea actually,” explained Boxerwood Education Director Elise Sheffield, “switch out something harmful for something good.”  Hauling food waste to landfills increases costs for municipalities. Decomposing organic material in landfills also releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Composting food scraps at home, on the other hand, builds rich soil and sequesters carbon: healthy ecological outcomes. For this reason, municipalities across the nation are now encouraging citizen composting, but not everyone has the tools or know-how for getting started. 

The Great Backyard Compost Challenge tackles some of those obstacles. “Basically we were looking for ways to promote family stewardship in midst of a lock-down pandemic, so why not focus on household food waste?“ said Sheffield.  As part of the study, each selected household will receive a composting kit (the Earth Machine 80-gallon sturdy plastic composter, household pail, and hand scale). The households will all follow the same protocol for weighing and recording food waste they divert to their composter. Each Saturday, the households will anonymously upload their weekly total to a data page on the Boxerwood website. At the end of three months, the data compiled will offer a helpful baseline for future actions. Participants do not need prior knowledge of composting, said Sheffield, noting the Earth Machines were selected for their simplicity of use. Project organizers will guide participants in their protocols and provide weekly tips.

“We brought this concept to the City of Lexington last fall and the City really liked it,” added Sheffield. Together the City and Boxerwood submitted a grant request for $10,000, half of which was for materials and the rest for Boxerwood’s project management. Thanks to bulk discounts, the project was able to buy forty very durable composters for Lexington families. A separate DEQ grant, shared with the Clean Valley Council of Roanoke, also provides twenty composters for families from Rockbridge and Buena Vista. 

The project runs March 14 to June 5, 2021. Participation is open to all, but only households not currently composting will be considered for the free compost kits. According to organizers, households in which youth gr. 4 - 12 take lead in the project will receive preference, with others selected by lottery. There is no cost to participate and indeed at the end of the study, households who wish to continue to divert their food waste may keep their composting kits, a $150 retail value. Households who successfully complete all project requirements will also receive a gift card at the end of the study. Interested households may register for the project online at the Boxerwood website, https://boxerwood.org/backyard-compost/