Composting as a job creator

When folks compost — take their organic waste, like food scraps and pet droppings and such, and mix it with soil or sawdust to create nutrient-rich fertilizer for plants — it’s often a feel-good activity. It’s better for the planet than throwing those watermelon rinds in the landfill (Quick Fact: About 40 percent of landfill waste is organic) and you get a more robust garden out of the deal as well.

Lee Michael of Garbage to Garden empties a bucket of food scraps in the Munjoy Hill neighborhood recently. Garbage to Garden offers curbside composting to its customers. (BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Composting has been heating up in Greater Portland lately, I suspect because of those aforementioned benefits. Because of increased demand, the city is continuing to sell at reduced prices its 2013 home compost bin and handy dandy how-to guide for a low low price of $50 (the set retails for more like $100, according to the city), as well as various other composting toys like $10 kitchen waste pail, a $20 wing digger compost turner, a $20 compost thermometer and $65 rain-capture barrel.

But all that considered, I doubt many people compost because they consider it a job creator.

Well, now there’s some research out there suggesting that by turning your banana peels into fertilizer dirt you’re a little angel investor in your own right.

This interesting study came out in Maryland. It’s titled “Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs and Protect the Bay.”

Now, typically, when I get press releases about studies that specific to a state that isn’t Maine, it doesn’t last long before seeing the recycle bin.

This study, released by the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, finds what a study released by a group called the Institute for Local Self-Reliance would be expected to find — that composting is a major boon to green industry and creates jobs — but provides some interesting numbers nonetheless.

The report finds that for every million tons of organic waste recycled, 1,400 new full-time jobs could be supported, with total wages ranging from $23 million to $57 million.

Here’s a graph from the ILSR announcement of the study with more figures:

Based on a survey of Maryland composters, Pay Dirt found that, on a per-ton basis, composting sustains twice as many jobs as landfilling and four times the number of jobs as burning garbage. On a dollar-per-capital-investment basis, the number of jobs supported by composting versus disposal options was even more striking: 3 times more than landfills, and 17 times more than incinerators. Many of these jobs are skilled jobs such as equipment operators, with typical wages in the $16 to $20 per hour range.

Now, this is Maryland, of course. But we may see some Greater Portland specific numbers within a month or so, as ecomaine, a nonprofit waste management company serving nearly 50 southern Maine communities, releases the results of its feasibility study on adding organic waste disposal to its suite of services (which already includes a waste-to-energy plant, a massive recycling facility and an ash-only landfill).

On a smaller scale, we already know composting creates jobs in Portland because the company Garbage to Garden launched almost a year ago to pick up compost buckets curbside — so there’s a handful of positions that weren’t there before.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.