Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Cambridge composting programs expanded in four of the past five years. (Photo: Martha Henry)

With a series of recycling programs in place, Cambridge is focusing this year on increasing residents’ participation in them.

In 2017, Cambridge was in the middle of drafting goals and proposing strategies to reduce waste and curb greenhouse gas emissions. “The Zero Waste Master Plan helped us outline our priorities for programs to launch over the next five years,” said Mike Orr, recycling director for the Department of Public Works. Goals were set to reduce waste 30 percent by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050, using 2008 as a baseline.

In 2019, a year ahead of schedule, Cambridge achieved a 32 percent reduction in trash, but slid backward in 2020 due to challenges from the Covid pandemic. By 2022, trash reduction returned to 32 percent.

Over the past five years, DPW has rolled out programs and expanded existing ones:

  • 2018: Introduced the Zero Waste Cambridge app with trash and recycling schedules; launched a small-business recycling test; expanded a curbside composting program to include residential buildings of up to 12 units
  • 2019: Launched a mattress recycling program; launched a “Recycle Right” campaign to lower recycling contamination
  • 2020: Expanded curbside composting to all buildings on the city’s trash program; expanded the small-business recycling program
  • 2021: Launched a small-business composting test; launched a textiles recovery program
  • 2022: Launched the standard trash cart program, requiring residents to use only city-issued carts; expanded the small-business composting test

“2023 is the first year we don’t have any new programs rolling out, so it’s a good time for us to see where we’re at and what things we need to put emphasis on,” said Orr.

One focus is to increase participation in the curbside composting by handing out 5,000 kitchen compost bins in 2023. “We’re trying to up our game and get more people to take part in the program,” Orr said. DPW estimates about half of eligible households participate in curbside composting. “Part of the challenge is the residential turnover. Every year we see 20 percent to 30 percent of renters moving in and out of the city.”

In February, compost bags and bins will be available at the Department of Public Works, 147 Hampshire St., Wellington-Harrington; Cambridge City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, and the City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway, Mid-Cambridge.

Compost bags and bins will be available from Cambridge in February. (Photo: Cambridge Department of Public Works)

“Recycling and composting are great for the environment, but what a lot of people may not understand is that this is also a cost-savings,” Orr said. “We’re running out of space to put our trash, which means the trash has to go further and further away, which means greater cost and more emissions.”

“When food waste ends up in a landfill, it will degrade and generate methane, which will release into the atmosphere. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 on the order of, I’ve heard, between 75 to 85 times,” Orr said. “There are major climate emission issues with food waste going to a landfill.”

The Zero Waste Master Plan is set to be reviewed this year to determine if objectives are being met and to provide an opportunity for adjustments.

“We’re on track to achieve a 50 percent reduction in trash by 2030,” DPW Commissioner Kathy Watkins said in an email. “We know more work is required to maintain the trajectory towards 80 percent reduction by 2050. It’s critical that we do so as landfill and incineration capacity is dwindling every year in New England. To achieve our 2050 goals, we will continue to examine our programs, systems and outreach in the community.”