Did you know 35% of Lexington’s waste is actually compostable? 

That was one of the findings of a group of Lexington residents and staff tasked with putting together a plan to comply with the town’s Zero Waste Resolution, passed by Town Meeting in 2022 — and the reason why one of their first initiatives is a new curbside composting program. 

“Incineration of food waste is polluting, costly, and wasteful,” says Lin Jensen, a member of the Sustainable Lexington Committee, which helped get the project off the ground. “Instead of being incinerated, food waste can be composted and turned into healthy, rich soil.” This process helps keep waste out of landfills, reduces carbon emissions, and produces nutrient-rich soil that can replace artificial fertilizers. “Did you know that in order to burn our trash, especially with wet food waste, incinerators have to add petroleum?” Jensen adds. “What a double whammy!”

The pilot program, which launches next week, offers free curbside compost pickup to 2,000 Lexington households. Compostable items include coffee grounds and tea bags; fruit and vegetable skins, seeds, and pits; meat and seafood, including bones and shells; and some non-food items including paper napkins, egg cartons, cardboard boxes, and certified compostable cups, plates and utensils. 

The program will be run by Black Earth, a company already known to many in Lexington (previously, Lexington residents could opt to pay Black Earth for private curbside service and would receive a free bin and countertop container from the town as part of a partnership to encourage residents to compost). 

Efforts to bring composting to Lexington go back a long way. Parents at Estabrook School began Lexington’s first school lunch composting program back in 2004. Now all 9 Lexington public schools have composting programs led by the LPS Green Teams, which together divert around 130 tons of food waste from incineration each year. An estimated twenty percent of Lexington residents already compost at home, whether through private services like Black Earth, DIY backyard composting, or the town’s drop-off composting program run by the DPW and the Lexington Zero Waste Collaborative. The town included “adoption of curbside composting programs” as a goal in its sustainability plan as far back as 2018. One factor that might have helped that goal finally become a reality is the economics of it – recently, “waste hauling and incineration costs have skyrocketed, making the diversion of food waste more economically appealing,” Jensen explains. 

The budget for the pilot program is $216,000, which will be paid for with ARPA funds. Right now, the program is only funded for one year, but organizers hope to both continue and expand it. “The goal is definitely to get to full, town-wide composting,” says Maggie Peard, the town’s Sustainability and Resilience Officer. 

If you haven’t signed up already, there may still be an opportunity — there were about 50 spots available as of early this week. 

“There was a huge amount of demand when we first opened for registration — we had about 1,500 spots filled within the first few days,” Peard says. Now that the most eager residents have signed up, it might take a little more outreach and education to fill the last few spots and grow the program in the future, she explains. 

“It’s gonna be smelly, it’s gonna attract pests,” — those are some of the concerns she’s heard from people who are hesitant to try composting. But most households empty their small compost bins frequently, leaving their main garbage cans filled with nothing but a few wrappers and other non-smelly waste, Peard explains. “I think people find out very quickly that it actually makes their garbage less smelly.” 

For more information, and to register if you haven’t already, visit the Lexington Curbside Compost Pilot page on the Black Earth website. The program is open to both new composters as well as existing Black Earth customers wanting to switch to the free program. If registration is full, you can still sign up for Black Earth’s paid service and / or ask to be added to the waiting list for the pilot program. There is also information about drop-off and backyard composting on the town’s Zero Waste page

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  1. The DPW has run out of bins. I went yesterday to pick mine up and they had a list for people who had come for pick up and will be notified when more are available.

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