Living Greener

Composting and Greening in a Multi-Family Building

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Mark Rodeffer was instrumental in bringing composting to his SW DC housing co-op. Photo: Todd Woodard

From incentives to purchase greener appliances and windows to installing rain barrels and solar panels, it sometimes seems that most greening initiatives are tailored to single-family homeowners. While there are many individual actions and choices that can result in a greener lifestyle regardless of where you live, how do you get a greening and composting going in an apartment, condo, or co-op complex?  The quick answer: Get involved!

Kim Katzenbarger has been Chair of the Southwest DC 389-unit Tiber Island Cooperative Conservation Committee for over 10 years. She’s an environmental advocate and has used her position on the committee to implement several environmental initiatives from mandating the use of environmentally safe cleaning supplies in common areas; installing low-flow showerheads, toilets, sink aerators and Energy Star washers/dryers; and window film to reduce heat from the building’s many large east and west facing windows. Thanks to the committee’s efforts, Tiber Island also sponsors an annual paper shredding day and even a jeans collection event.

Meanwhile, composting is gaining popularity in co-ops, condo, and apartment buildings across DC. In 2009 with Katzenbarger’s help, Tiber Island implemented a composting program.  While the program was initially managed by the co-ops Conservation Committee members, it quickly became so popular that the board agreed to contract with a commercial composting company.   Mark Rodeffer, Chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, has lived in River Park, a co-op across the street from Tiber Island, since 2015. “When I learned that putting organic waste in landfills creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, I was determined to compost my organic waste. I used to sneak my own compost into Tiber Island’s composting bins. Then I convinced my co-op board to start our own composting program.”

DC condo, apartment, and co-op residents turned out for a forum on composting in a multi-family setting. Photo: C. Plume

At a recent Multi-Family Composting Forum hosted by the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, local composting businesses – Veteran Compost, Compost Cab, Loop Closing, Compost Crew, and EnviRelation – and residents that have started composting initiatives in their buildings pointed to three common –and flawe–arguments that are used against composting in large buildings.  First, there’s a sense that composting attracts rodents, when in fact, composting actually isolates and manages food waste. It’s a pest mitigation strategy. There’s also a sense that composting services cost a lot of money.  Both composting company representatives and residents who have hired composting services noted that the cost of composting pickup services in multi-unit buildings breaks down to only a few dollars per month per household. As more people participate in the program, the price drops. And, as an added bonus, since there’s less trash being hauled from the building, waste hauling contracts should be renegotiated and reduced. Finally, many building owners feel that their building can’t accommodate composting, when, in fact, composting is quite flexible. Composting services work with the building management to provide a system that is will work with a particular building space.

Housing co-ops seem to be leading building-wide greening and composting efforts in DC, but with an environmental champion, it can also happen in condos and apartments. Joan Epstein, a tenant association member at her Ward 3 apartment building is leading the charge to start composting in her building.  Meanwhile, at least one large scale real estate apartment builder who will be moving into DC in the near future provides composting and several other environmentally oriented amenities in all of its buildings.

And, if you can’t get your building to get on board, start composting in your own apartment or condo.  In line with the DC government’s goal to divert 80% of waste away from landfills and incineration by 2032, in the coming months, they’ll begin offering rebates of up to $75 for approved vermicomposting (worm) or backyard composting systems.  Stay tuned!

Katzenbarger and Rodeffer agree that proactive involvement in a co-op committee or tenant association along with initial buy-in from a few residents are key tactics for any greening initiative. Katzenbarger notes, “Timing is important. A few requested projects – such as installing green roofs on the lower level townhouses – weren’t approved, but I intend to reintroduce this idea again when renovations occur.  And, when presenting new projects/initiatives, it’s important to show the long-term cost savings.” Composting can reduce the amount and frequency – and ultimately the cost–of trash pickups, while installing solar panels on a condo or apartment roof can reduce a property’s energy costs considerably.

Are you willing to become an environmental champion for your co-op, condo, or apartment building?  Your neighbors will thank you!

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler.  She is also the Vice Chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, however, perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.