(June 14, 2019) A local non-profit group, Go Green OC, is paving the way to a greener Ocean City through composting.
“Our goal is not to get every single person in Ocean City to compost. Our goal is to get the big boys to compost,” founder and executive director Josh Chamberlain said.
Composting is the process of speeding up the natural decay of organic materials. Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi feed on the waste, breaking it down and chemically transforming it into a gold mine of nutrient-rich soil.
In September 2018, Chamberlain and Garvey Heiderman, director of compost operations at Go Green OC and owner of the Hobbit restaurant, launched a four-week pilot program at the Hobbit to collect data for the composting project.
“We collected almost 2,000 pounds of waste,” Chamberlain said. “Every single dinner sold generated 1.23 pounds of food waste.”
With that data, Chamberlain and Heiderman figured that the Hobbit was producing roughly 33,000 pounds of food waste a year.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the three key ingredients of composting are browns (dead leaves, twigs, branches), greens (grass clippings, vegetable waste, coffee grounds, etc.) and water.
Meat and oil may also be composted, but are generally avoided because of the odor they produce and their tendency to attract pests such as flies and rodents. Heiderman said that the Hobbit would still compost these items in its effort to eliminate food waste.
Food waste, which makes up around 30 percent of all trash, produces methane gas, which, in terms of heating up the atmosphere, is anywhere between 25 to 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
However, when food waste is composted it can help the environment in various ways.
“From a farmer’s standpoint compost is phenomenal,” Heiderman said. “It can bring back cropland that has been desolate and drained of nutrients for years. From our coastal point of view it is phenomenal for preventing runoff from leeching into the groundwater and into the watershed.”
Compost is so good at preventing runoff that the state highway administration of Maryland is now required to use it to mitigate pollution runoff, Chamberlain said.
The reason compost is so good at this is because of its water retention. According to a Washington State University study, adding just five percent organic material to soil can quadruple its water holding capacity.
Currently, OC sends its trash to a waste-to-energy generator in Chester, Pennsylvania.
But if the city were to compost its food waste, it would go to a local farmer, and that would help reduce emissions produced from transporting the trash to the incinerator, Heiderman said.
Chamberlain and Heiderman have found support for the project from the county and the city, including Mayor Rick Meehan and the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.
“Everyone on the board level was intrigued by what he [Heiderman] was doing and thought it was a great idea,” Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, said.
The biggest obstacle for the project is funding. Ocean City trash removal services are tax funded, therefore there is no way of generating revenue for any kind of waste removal.
All funding for the project has been out of pocket, but Go Green has set up a Go Fund Me page to help alleviate costs.
Nonetheless, Chamberlain and Heiderman have high hopes for the future of composting and waste reduction in Ocean City.
“Our overall goal is to make Ocean City the leader [of zero-waste] not just in the state, but in the nation,” he said. “We want to make Ocean City the first zero-waste resort in the United States.”