If the village wants Oak Park to be on the right side of the fight against global climate change and environmental devastation and serve all residents equitably, municipal services need to bring more sustainable practices to residents. Composting is one such practice. Instead of kitchen and yard refuse rotting in landfills to produce climate-warming methane, composting turns the same organic material into a valuable soil additive that boosts nutrient levels, reduces the need for artificial, manufactured fertilizers, and enhances moisture retention. The village’s current composting program makes it easy for households to reduce their carbon footprint — but not for all.

Although it’s been eight years since the village launched CompostAble, its curbside composting pick-up service, only about 20% of the 11,000 eligible Oak Park households currently participate. And many more residents can’t participate because they live in buildings of more than five units, which aren’t covered by the municipal waste-hauling contract — yet their households still produce organic kitchen waste that could be composted rather than trashed. 

The village can help us do better by:

● Switching composting from an opt-in to an opt-out program for already eligible households. If you’re automatically enrolled and billed for the program and supplied with a container for your kitchen and yard waste, you might as well give it a try and find out how easy it is, especially with curbside pickup. More households would end up participating in a proven but underutilized program.

● Allowing neighbors to share composting as well as recycling accounts. Since different households generate different amounts of these materials, sharing accounts makes sense and it lowers costs for consumers. The village should use its status as a major buyer of waste-hauling services in negotiating with contractors to eliminate the current requirement that each address have its own container whether or not it can fill it. Fewer truck stops for pick-ups translates to better air quality for residents and lower fuel and maintenance costs for contractors. Everyone benefits.

● Bringing composting to the many Oak Park homes (and businesses!) not covered by the village’s waste removal services. That can start with scattered collection sites where renters and condo-owners can drop their kitchen waste, and a vigorous public education campaign to encourage everyone to divert their vegetable peels, empty pizza boxes, chicken bones, and dead cut flowers from trash to compost. As more renters and condo-dwellers adopt composting, they could pressure their waste-haulers to offer curbside composting service, making it easier for yet more residents to participate. 

These changes could not only increase participation in composting but make access to it more equitable, with benefits for the planet and for budgets. They represent low-hanging fruit in Oak Park’s work to go greener. Low-hanging fruit that is, of course, CompostAble.

Richard Alton, Wendy Greenhouse, Julia Knier, Oak Park

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