Guest Host: Sasha-Ann Simons

The Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019 designates that the controversial “waste-to-energy” method of trash incineration counts as a form of clean energy. Local environmentalists are calling for increased investment in alternative forms of waste management and for the shut down of trash incinerators across the state.

So are the days numbered for Montgomery County’s trash incinerator? And what can residents and businesses do to reduce waste at the source?

Tune in for some (literal) trash talk — and some new ideas on how to manage it.

Produced by Kayla Hewitt


  • Neil Seldman Director, Waste to Wealth Initiative; Co-founder, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Ellen Kassoff Gray Co-owner, Equinox Restaurant
  • Adam Ortiz Director, Montgomery County's Department Of Environmental Protection
  • Jeremy Brosowsky Principal, Agricity LLC; and Founder, Compost Cab


  • 12:32:20

    SASHA-ANN SIMONSWelcome back. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons, in for Kojo Nnamdi. In April, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019. The Act designates that controversial waste-to-energy systems count as a form of clean energy. Despite the law, Montgomery County is looking to shut down its trash incinerator in 2026. The county, as well as other jurisdictions across the region, are looking for ways to cut down on their waste. Joining us to discuss is Jeremy Brosowsky. He's the founder and CEO of Compost Cab. Hi, Jeremy.

  • 12:32:52

    JEREMY BROSOWSKYHi, how are you Sasha?

  • 12:32:53

    SIMONSGood, thank you. Neil Seldman is the director of the waste-to-wealth initiative and cofounder of the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Hi, Neil.

  • 12:33:01


  • 12:33:01

    SIMONSAdam Ortiz is the director of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection. Welcome, Adam.

  • 12:33:07

    ADAM ORTIZThank you, Sasha.

  • 12:33:08

    SIMONSAnd Ellen Kassoff is the co-owner of Equinox Restaurant. Hello.

  • 12:33:11


  • 12:33:13

    SIMONSWe want you to join the conversation, as well. Give us a call at 800-433-8850, or email us at, or get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending us a Tweet @kojoshow. Do you compost? Tell us about it. Or are you thinking about starting composting in your home? Give us a call with your questions. Neil, I'm going to start with you. How does trash incineration work, and why do some consider it to be clean, renewable energy?

  • 12:33:40

    SELDMANThere's several different technologies, but the technologies that are operating in the D.C. area are called mass burn systems, in which mixed garbage is placed on grates and they are incinerated. They create steam. The steam drives a turbine, and you get electricity. Citizens are vehemently opposed to this because of the pollution that comes out of them. This issue has been very important in Baltimore, where there's these one of two remaining incinerators in Maryland. And the Baltimore Clean Air Act will now require all incinerators to meet best available control technologies. And the one in Baltimore probably will not be able to do that. It's unclear whether the incinerator in Dickerson in Montgomery can.

  • 12:34:36

    SELDMANThe proponents of incineration say that it's clean energy. This cannot be true. The emissions coming from these plants are the leading sources of air pollution in the city and the region. And I would suggest that people go to the webpage and look for Energy Justice Network, which has detailed technical data on what is coming out of these incinerators. And I personally find it quite threatening for public health and the environment.

  • 12:35:10

    SIMONSAnd so waste to energy, you say that's not...

  • 12:35:13

    SELDMANWell, the waste to energy creates energy, but it creates such a small amount of energy, that if we were to recycle the materials and compost the materials, we would save much more energy than we create by burning, without the pollution and without the very intensive capital costs of these systems.

  • 12:35:31

    SIMONSAdam Ortiz, what does the Clean Energy Act say about trash incineration?

  • 12:35:36

    ORTIZWell, that it counts towards the renewable portfolio. So, there's a credit that the facility in Dickerson gets. It's about between -- around $1.5 million a year. In overall, the facility is a $60 million operation. Neil mentioned the energy sales. We get about $15 million in energy sales. So, it makes a difference, but it's a huge enterprise, and, you know, that $1.5 million isn't that big a deal. So, County Executive Elrich and we supported removing it from the portfolio.

  • 12:36:08

    SIMONSSo, trash incineration isn't the only renewable energy method included in the law. What is black liquor?

  • 12:36:15

    ORTIZBlack liquor is a residue of manufacturing paper. And, for centuries, paper mills have been burning that as a fuel. It's not a clean fuel, but it's been industrial practice for hundreds of years. And there are many environmentalists who would like that practice to stop. And they certainly do not want it to get an energy credit for renewable energy.

  • 12:36:44

    SIMONSSpeaking of environmentalists, how have they reacted to the Clean Energy Act?

  • 12:36:49

    ORTIZWell, quite frankly, some environmental groups supported what went on. Other groups are opposed to it. So, I would say the environmental community is split. The key difference is that everybody wants more money going into wind energy and solar energy. And there was no problem with expanding the amount of money there. But many environmentalists, those who I agree with, wanted to remove incineration as an eligible for these tax breaks, and then expand the amount of money, so it would go to solar and wind. That did not happen.

  • 12:37:29

    SIMONSAnd you went to a Sierra Club meeting. How did that go? What did you see?

  • 12:37:34

    ORTIZI would say -- there was no official poll taken, but I would say that most of the 50 or so people at that meeting were opposed to having incineration included in the credits for renewable portfolio.

  • 12:37:48

    SIMONSNow, Neil, sticking with you here, what does this designation mean for the future of clean energy in Maryland?

  • 12:37:54

    SELDMANWell, I think it gives it a very dirty face, (laugh) because most of the money is going to go to facilities that burn garbage. And, as I said, they're the leading cause of pollution in the Baltimore/D.C. area.

  • 12:38:10

    SIMONSAdam, Montgomery County currently has a trash incinerator. Are there plans to phase out its use?

  • 12:38:16

    ORTIZWell, the county executive has definitely been clear about his interest in phasing it out. He's also been, you know, realistic, and we have that it's not something that can happen overnight. That facility processes 12,000 tons of material every single week. And to be able to take that material to some other place is a touch decision. So, there's no easy answer, and I want to communicate that to the listeners. This is tough stuff.

  • 12:38:41

    ORTIZAnd the direction I've received from him -- and something that we're working very diligently on -- is trying to reduce the amount of inputs that are going in there. And that means increasing recycling. That means taking food scraps, you know, out of that waste stream and putting it into compost facilities. So, Montgomery and Prince Georges, for years, compete for the number one spot in recycling in the state of Maryland. They do a great job, and our diversion rate is around 60 percent in this region.

  • 12:39:08

    ORTIZBut still, even though it's so high, the amount of material that's going to landfills in Prince Georges and the incinerator in Montgomery County, about 50 percent of that material is recyclable or recoverable still, even with those exceptional rates. So, we have a lot of work to do, Sasha, to be able to get that material out of the incinerator. Neil is right. It's better to be recycled. It's better to be composted and support the local economy and support the environment.

  • 12:39:35

    SIMONSI want to jump to the phones, really quick. I see we have Denise on the line from Tacoma Park. Hi, Denise.

  • 12:39:42

    DENISEHi. I'm Denise Robbins. I'm the communications director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. I just want to say, I'm really glad that you all are talking about this issue. It's really important for incineration from our renewable portfolio standard. The Clean Energy Jobs Act that passed this year, you know, we weren't able to remove those incentives -- sorry, but we weren't able to remove those incentives, but that bill also didn't create them.

  • 12:40:10

    DENISEAnd the choice that we faced was, do we want to go ahead with the wind and solar industries from expanding, while keeping incineration in this law? Or, you know, basically, blunt the wind and solar industry? So, we're all very devoted and committed, and I don't think the environment community is split about the idea of removing incentives for trash incineration. We all want to do that, very much. And I'm just really glad that you're talking about the ways that we can do that, and we support you, totally.

  • 12:40:40

    SIMONSThank you, Denise. Appreciate your call. Neil, according to your research, how best could Montgomery County go about getting rid of its incinerator?

  • 12:40:49

    SELDMANThere are a number of techniques, and some are in the planning works. Adam could provide more details. One, of course, is setting up a system for composting household organics. We prefer -- we would, rather, suggest a distributed system, meaning you encourage backyard composting, you encourage community-based composting. And there are many of these projects all over the metropolitan area. And you also need a centralized facility for materials that cannot be handled in your backyard, or in your community.

  • 12:41:26

    SELDMANWe think that pay-as-you-throw, charging people for the amount of garbage they put out, is a very effective way to increase recycling. I must say, Montgomery County is a very good model. One, because it's the largest jurisdiction in the country that uses dual-stream recycling, which means collecting paper and the other materials separately. This guarantees that their materials get to market. So, that's terrific. Some of the cities in Montgomery County, like Rockville, use single stream still.

  • 12:41:58

    SELDMANThe other recommendation I would have would be to focus on reusable materials, repairable materials, mattresses, furniture, appliances. There are many companies that are doing this, and doing it very well. But I agree with Adam. You can't shut the incinerator down tomorrow. You need, I would say, at least a three-year phase-in to get the numbers up. And then I think it will be cheaper for the county to use rail haul to landfill, than to continue using the incinerator.

  • 12:42:30

    SELDMANI'd like to say one other thing. Adam will disagree. I think the recycling rate is 40 percent in Montgomery County. I think the 60 percent figure includes ash that is not recycled in the traditional sense that we think of recycling. Now, 40 percent is good. I think there are measures that could actually get that twice as high as it is now, with implementation of good ideas and good programs.

  • 12:42:58

    ORTIZI just want to be -- I accept your friendly amendment. (laugh)

  • 12:43:01

    SIMONS(overlapping) Do you, in fact, disagree, Adam?

  • 12:43:03

    ORTIZI, in fact, do not disagree, Sasha. (laugh)

  • 12:43:05


  • 12:43:05

    ORTIZI appreciate that we got that out.

  • 12:43:07

    SIMONSLet's open up the phone lines. We've got Bob on the line from Lanham, Maryland. Hi, Bob.

  • 12:43:12

    BOBGood afternoon. Yes, one of the factors you have to acknowledge -- and I think you've kind of hinted at it -- but you cannot effectively compost paper and plastic. You can put them in landfills, where they'll last for hundreds of years before they degrade. The market for recycled plastics has markedly decreased. You can read the articles about how China and the Third World countries are refusing plastic that used to accept it. So, you have to deal with the fact that incineration significantly reduces the volume of what you have to dispose of by getting rid of the plastic and paper. It is one of the advantages of the method, acknowledging the other issues. Go ahead.

  • 12:43:53

    SIMONSThanks, Bob. Adam.

  • 12:43:55

    ORTIZBob, appreciate the point. There aren't easy answers. So, one of the things that we're talking about when trying to take this opportunity is, you know, we're expecting 2030 and 2040 results on 1990 systems. You know, we built this stuff and planned this stuff and, like literally, the '80s it came online, the '90s. The region has changed. Economies have changed. The waste stream itself has changed and technology has changed.

  • 12:44:21

    ORTIZChina has, you know, definitely given us a challenging environment for selling the commodities, but plastics, by and large, have not been going from this region to China. They've been staying here in North America. We can get more value out of the plastic stream by sorting it by color and by type better. So, part of the reason it makes it a low-profit commodity is when it's mixed or contaminated with other stuff. Because then it's tougher to separate, tougher to pelletize and create it.

  • 12:44:49

    ORTIZSo our MERF -- material recycling facility -- is super outdated. It's overwhelmed, and we're in the process of putting out the proposals to look for a new site to make it modern. And the things that we're talking about, Sasha, are optical sorters -- that technology did not exist 30 years ago -- and robotics. You know, a lot of efficiencies there. If we're able to do that, then instead of getting, you know, $25 a ton or so, or $40 a ton, we're getting between 300 and $400 a ton. Then the numbers work, on paper. Not to geek out, since everybody's trapped here in the room with me, (laugh) but you'll have to suffer.

  • 12:45:29

    ORTIZBut paper's been interesting, too. So, the paper prices have tanked, because China isn't taking as much anymore, but we're seeing a response here in North America. There's a lot of virgin pulp mills that are now becoming recycling pulp mills. So, the economy is changing. It's a tough time, but I think with ingenuity, collaboration, with a lot of the folks here in the room and technology, we can turn the curve and really get it to where we need it to be.

  • 12:45:52


  • 12:45:52

    SELDMANI agree 100 percent, and I consider what the Chinese did in 20 -- at the end of 2017 a terrific boost for recycling in the U.S. In fact, there's more investment in plastic, paper and electronics grab capacity now than in the last 10 years. And that's because, if you can't sell it -- the Chinese want our materials. They just want it clean. So, the Chinese are building mills here to get the pulp and send it back as a clean material. But the Chinese aren't the only people doing that. There's a scramble to get U.S. recyclables, if cities and counties keep them clean.

  • 12:46:30

    SIMONSNeil, on that same topic, what are the environmental effects of trash incineration? Can you talk about those? And then, also, like, health side effects?

  • 12:46:37

    SELDMANWell, I would urge you to -- again, the Energy Justice Network and the institute and many other groups working in Baltimore, this figure just came out from the hearings at the Baltimore City Council. The city of Baltimore is paying $53 million a year for emergency room visits by children and elderly people who suffer from asthma. And asthma is aggravated by nitrogen oxide, which is one of the main emissions from these plants. The amount of material of mercury, tons of mercury and lead coming out of these plants is positively frightening. And where some of the acid gases aggravate people, lead and mercury kill people. And it's a major danger. And I would urge people to go see the database from the Energy Justice Network, where you can get the actual details of what's coming out of these plants.

  • 12:47:36

    SIMONSAnd the dangers, yeah. Mike from Fairfax is also on the line. Hi, Mike.

  • 12:47:41

    MIKEHey, thanks for taking my call. So, I know that there are a bunch of new reactors that have come out in the last about decade or so that can do things apart from just burning the trash, but that they use really high temperatures. It creates sort of like inert, obsidian-like byproduct material that can be used to produce syngas, and it can be used in co-generation for heating and steam and other hot-water applications.

  • 12:48:05

    MIKEHas anybody thought about converting over or maybe replacing some of the current incinerators and reactors with something like that, so that we can still tap into the energy potential of all of this refuse that is currently still too expensive to recycle?

  • 12:48:19

    SIMONSThanks, Mike. Adam?

  • 12:48:21

    ORTIZThank you, Mike. There are a lot of emerging technologies, and, you know, Montgomery, since we're in this transitional period, we are looking at that. We still have not seen an example of those technologies taken to a municipal scale. You know, like I said, we're dealing with 12,000 tons of material a week. So, even if we get that down to only, you know, 5,000 tons a week, (laugh) that's still a lot of stuff to manage. So, we are looking at it.

  • 12:48:48

    ORTIZAnd I also, you know, I mentioned and, you know, my friend Neil reinforced, this is not a simple issue. So, if, you know, absent a new technology, and if the decision is made and we're in the position not to use the incinerator, then the option is land filling. And landfills also have a lot of environmental impacts, major environmental justice issue going back more than 100 years. So, these are tough issues. There's no easy answer and, you know, we're committed with County Executive Elrich. We're going to try to find the best and sustainable, smartest solution, but there aren't any easy answers. So, we welcome the ideas and the input from the callers and our colleagues and friends throughout the region as we figure it out.

  • 12:49:32

    SIMONSYou're listening to the Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons, WAMU's race and identity reporter, sitting in for Kojo. We'll continue our trash talk in a moment. Stay with us.

  • 12:50:03

    SIMONSI'm Sasha-Ann Simons sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm talking with Jeremy Brosowsky. He's the founder and CEO of Compost Cab. Neil Seldman is the director of the Waste to Wealth Initiative and cofounder of the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Adam Ortiz is the director of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection. And Ellen Kassoff is the co-owner of Equinox restaurant. Jeremy, one of the ways to cut down on the amount of trash going to landfills and incinerators is through composting. How does composting work?

  • 12:50:34

    BROSOWSKYWell, composting is simply the act of harnessing nature's natural processes for better and higher use. So, instead of taking your organic material, whether that be your apple cores or your banana peels and your pizza crusts and whatnot, instead of throwing that into the trash and having it end up in the bottom of a landfill or an incinerator, we feed it to a compost pile, where it is broken down naturally and efficiently and turned into an incredibly nutrient-rich soil amendment, which can then be applied throughout the community to increase the quality of the soil in the city.

  • 12:51:08

    SIMONSWhere do all of the food scraps go once they've been composted?

  • 12:51:10

    BROSOWSKYSo, it depends. Some people buy them. Some farms buy them. They're distributed to people throughout the system. So, you see it in bags at your local Ace Hardware. You see it in the backs of giants trucks being spread on your community gardens and urban farms. You see it in your, you know, landscaping trucks. That's what compost does.

  • 12:51:30

    SIMONSWell, I certainly did and many people think that they need a backyard or lots of outdoor space to actually get into composting. So, what are the options for people that live, like, here in the city, without access to that kind of outdoor space?

  • 12:51:42

    BROSOWSKYSo, one of the things that I think D.C. should be particularly proud of is that it is a hotbed of creating systems that make access possible for anyone. So, to your point, not everyone has a backyard where they can have their own compost pile. And so, in D.C., you have a drop-off program that my company is very proud to operate on behalf of the Department of Public Works, in all eight wards of the city. So, every Saturday morning, in all eight wards of D.C., there is a farmers' market where we pop up a tend and we have a friendly face there to collect your food scraps.

  • 12:52:13

    BROSOWSKYAnd what's remarkable -- and it continues to fill me with awe, candidly -- every weekend now, we are seeing, somewhere, close to 2,000 D.C. residents coming to farmers' markets across the city every weekend, with their bucket or their bag or their pail or whatever vessel they're choosing to bring in. And they're dropping off food scraps, five and six tons at a time. And it's really incredible. Adam and I were talking about this earlier. These individual acts add up. Every individual thing adds up.

  • 12:52:46

    BROSOWSKYJust at Dupont Circle this past Sunday, we had over 700 individuals drop off over two tons of food scraps. No incentives. No one told them they had to. No one forced them to but simply by making it available, hundreds and hundreds of people opted in to doing the right thing. And so we view composting very much as a kind of a gateway drug for sustainability. It is a behavioral change that is connected to the food system.

  • 12:53:15

    BROSOWSKYAnd so, you know, Ellen runs a restaurant, and she'll talk about how powerful food can be in changing behavior by making composting a priority, because it's associated with positive things. Every lunchbox you pack for your kids, every time you entertain your friends or your family for the holidays, that sort of sustainability is different than changing out an LED light bulb.

  • 12:53:37

    SIMONSHere are some more people that are doing just that, Jeremy. We've got a Tweet from Paige. She said: I just started composting in the District, and while it's helpful that D.C. sets up collecting stations at farmers' markets, the city could be more supportive of composting efforts. Another comment that we got via email: I live in Tacoma Park, where we have curbside composting. It's easy-breezy, and makes so much sense. Residents participate voluntarily, and I don't understand why all residents aren't participating. Before the city program we paid the compost crew to pick up for us. Which is pretty interesting. Now, I'm going to open up the phone lines. Ted's been patiently waiting, Ted, in Washington. Hi, Ted.

  • 12:54:16

    TEDHi. I wanted to ask about rats and composting. And we've got a community garden in our neighborhood, and I have a plot there, but we don't have a compost bin or anything. And some of the folks said, well, but that'll attract rats.

  • 12:54:35

    BROSOWSKYLike anything else, if you take good care of it, it can be managed. If you don't take good care of it, it'll attract rats. The thing I'd like to say about compost is really pretty straightforward. You're throwing this stuff away, anyway. Right now, you're throwing it in the garbage, and it's going out there. And the rats are hanging out in the garbage can, working on it. All we're suggesting is, instead of throwing it all in the same place, let's containerize it, take care of it in a way that makes sense, and move it out.

  • 12:54:59

    BROSOWSKYSo, our home collection service has been up and running in the city since 2010, and it has been a model for the creation of similar businesses and operations in dozens of cities around the country. And we have had, in those almost 10 years of operation, precisely zero complaints about rodents, zero.

  • 12:55:17

    SIMONSEllen, I want to bring you into the conversation. Your restaurant, Equinox, you work with food before it even becomes waste. So, how do you cut down on food waste?

  • 12:55:25

    GRAYWell, we compost everything, even what comes from the customer's plate. We work with a company that you don't have to separate the vegetables anymore from the meat scraps. We put everything into one compost bin, and it's picked up weekly. So, we are a zero food-waste restaurant now.

  • 12:55:46

    SIMONSHow do you cut down on other kinds of wastes?

  • 12:55:48

    GRAYWell, we've switched, say, for example, from putting a paper napkin on the bar when somebody orders a drink to a reusable silicone coaster with our label on it. People like to take them home too. It's just great advertising. (laugh) So, we've cut down on a lot of paper waste that way. There's a number of different -- if people take to-go containers, compostable containers. And, of course now, the ban on the plastic straws are in effect and we, a couple years ago, had already switched to a stainless steel reusable straw, as well. So, food waste was our biggest tackle and what we're most proud of.

  • 12:56:24

    SIMONSSo, you were ahead of the game, right? You've also featured -- I found this super interesting -- trash food...

  • 12:56:30

    GRAYYes (laugh) .

  • 12:56:31

    SIMONS...on your menus. What is trash food? And, despite the name, like, why would I want to eat that?

  • 12:56:34

    GRAYWell, it's food -- my chef husband likes to call it (speaks foreign language) to make it a little more appealing (laugh) to the public. It's food that would otherwise go into the waste stream, like carrot peelings or potato peelings. You know, as a restaurant, we throw away $25 billion worth of food, 11.4 million tons. And, as a business owner, you're paying for the whole potato. And when you scrape it down, you're getting less than what you paid for.

  • 12:57:04

    GRAYSo, chefs are finding incredibly innovative ways to make a carrot peeling soup or potato skins. In fact, on the 13th, Rescue Dish is a way for the consumers to go to restaurants around D.C. that are participating in Restaurant Rescue Dish Week, where very innovative chefs are creating dishes from trash food, or food that would otherwise be thrown away. So, if you want to check it out and see what it really tastes, like, get on that website and go visit some restaurants starting on the 13th.

  • 12:57:32

    SIMONSFunny, as soon as we start talking about trash food, the phone lines are going nuts. (laugh) Let's take a call, here, from David, in Germantown. Hi, David.

  • 12:57:41

    DAVIDHi, and thank you very much for taking my call.

  • 12:57:43

    SIMONSOf course.

  • 12:57:44

    DAVIDI have been a resident of upper Montgomery County for over 20 years. I've seen Germantown turn from farms to built-out suburban landscape. And, for the past 10 years, I've served as a president of our condominium association. Two-hundred-twenty some families living in multifamily garden apartments. Our community is landlocked. We do not have any land upon which we can build additional resources or infrastructure to handle waste, recycling or, God forbid, composting.

  • 12:58:26

    DAVIDCurrently, we have trash corrals, in which we sort recycling from wet garbage waste. And that's just the limits of what we can do. And I think that if we can focus on solutions that can fit the needs of all residents and all communities in Montgomery County, I think that would really advance everyone's interests. Thank you.

  • 12:58:56

    SIMONSThank you, David. Did you want to say something, Jeremy?

  • 12:59:00

    BROSOWSKYI did, I did, and not on the Montgomery County component of it, but really, on the idea that there's nothing else we can do. I just think that's not true. I think we have proven and seen, on a daily basis, that when there's a will, there's a way. And if you are interested in making zero waste happen, virtually any household or organization -- from an individual apartment up to a big hotel to a global Fortune 500 company -- can approach zero waste if they're prepared to commit the time and energy to do so. And it doesn't necessarily have to cost more money.

  • 12:59:32

    GRAYIt's also just changing people's behavior. It's a lot easier than people realize, I think.

  • 12:59:35

    GRAYThat's right. It is about behavioral change.

  • 12:59:39

    SELDMANAnd, Sasha, if I may say, in D.C., a law is coming into effect, I think, next month. Any household can get $75 for a backyard compost bin if they go through a training course. The other thing I wanted to point out about rats is that there are ways to build your composting bins. And my colleague Brenda Platt and her team are doing it all over the place.

  • 13:00:04

    SELDMANThere are a number of other issues, too, about composting. Composting makes your kids smarter. It's called the nature deficit disorder. The more kids are involved in nature, the more they put their hands in that compost and feel the worms and stuff, the smarter they get. And, in fact, my kids -- you can do it in your backyard, you can do it in your house, with a worm bin.

  • 13:00:26

    GRAYIt becomes an earth science project.

  • 13:00:27

    SELDMANYeah, both my kids did science projects in the public schools based on worm bins.

  • 13:00:32

    SIMONSWho doesn't want smart kids? (laugh) I'm taking notes right now. I'm going to go home after this and, like, look at my kids, like, come on.

  • 13:00:38

    BROSOWSKYBut it's actually quite stunning. We get phone calls on at least every couple of weeks from students in schools doing projects, looking for our input, our support, our help. How can we help get their school, their classroom composting? The passion amongst the young is not to be underestimated.

  • 13:00:56

    SIMONSLet's take another call. Jacob, in Manassas. He's been waiting patiently. Hi, Jacob.

  • 13:01:01

    JACOBHey, Sasha. Hey, Jeremy. I've been an aspiring composter for a while, probably about a few years. I was wondering, what's the easiest or most recommended way to start composting in your home?

  • 13:01:16

    BROSOWSKYIt depends on your home, and it depends on how hard you want to work. Do you have outdoor space?

  • 13:01:23

    SIMONSOh, I think we've lost Jacob. But it depends.

  • 13:01:25

    BROSOWSKYSo, it really depends. So, composting is like spaghetti sauce. Everybody thinks their version is the best version. (laugh) And with no judgments, like, there are no right answers, right. So there are in-vessel versions where you can do worm composting in a bin in your house. If you have room outside, you can take a drill to a garbage can, put holes in it, put cheesecloth in it and make sure that it's rat-proof, and you can do it in there. You could pay a company like mine to come and pick it up for you. You can put it in a bin, put it in your freezer and take it to the farmers' market. All of these are valid ways to participate in the system. There's no right answer. It's all good.

  • 13:01:59

    SIMONSIt's all good.

  • 13:02:00

    BROSOWSKYWell, this is the thing, all composting is better than all land filling and all incineration.

  • 13:02:04

    SIMONSSo, it's all good. Composting makes your kids smart. Composting is like spaghetti sauce, okay. All right. (laugh)

  • 13:02:10

    BROSOWSKYWhat else you got?

  • 13:02:11

    SIMONSWe've got Debbie on the line. She's in Bethesda. Hi, Debbie.

  • 13:02:15

    DEBBIEHi. I wanted to go back to the emphasis on recycling, and say that the conversation also has to move way higher up on the hierarchy. We need to be talking about reducing consumption. Not that we can't get what we want, but reducing and reusing and put the onus on the manufacturers of all the packaging that we are trying to get rid of through recycling. If they own the packaging, we won't have this problem, not anywhere to the same extent. Why will that get rid of waste? Because that packaging will be designed to be given back to the manufacturer, sterilized, refilled, reused. And companies are already working on these concepts, but that's where the conversation has to be, much higher up the hierarchy.

  • 13:03:07


  • 13:03:07

    GRAYWell, I'll also say that the consumer is ultimately the person that will drive the company's behavior. You can't put this responsibility on the companies. I think that the consumers speak with their pocketbook. And I refuse as often as possible to buy a single-use plastic bottle. I'll buy aluminum or glass, you know. But if consumers don't change what they're demanding, companies won't change. Companies are in business to be profitable, so they're only going to go the way consumer demands shift them to.

  • 13:03:39

    SIMONSAnd on that recycling versus composting, you know, we should also throw in there, you know, paper towels and tissues, right. That's compostable...

  • 13:03:46

    BROSOWSKYCompostable, sure.

  • 13:03:47

    SIMONS...not recyclable.

  • 13:03:48

    BROSOWSKYCorrect. Any organic material. If it used to grow, it is compostable.

  • 13:03:51

    SIMONSYeah, you were going to say something?

  • 13:03:53

    BROSOWSKYSo, what I was going to jump in and say is, like, very much to echo what Ellen was saying. The behavioral change that's going to come from businesses is going to come because they view it as an opportunity to separate themselves from their competition by being better than and improving their behavior. It is a customer acquisition advantage. It is a branding advantage, in this world, to be greener. And companies and organizations, large and small, from restaurants like yours all the way up to, like, big Fortune 500 companies, are making good decisions.

  • 13:04:24

    SIMONSAnd, Ellen, talk about how average people, as well, can cut down on their waste at home, food waste.

  • 13:04:29

    GRAYYeah, well, it's also amazing how many people don't understand until you just give them one little shift in perspective. And then a whole new world opens up for them. It's just that sometimes we have those proverbial blinders on. And until someone says, hey, buy boxed water or water in an aluminum can instead of a plastic bottle, they'll say, well, why. And you explain it and you've changed behavior. And I see this all the time.

  • 13:04:51

    GRAYYou know, I'm a glass jar junky. I save most glass jars that I'll use instead of buying, you know, the plastic food savers. I store stuff in plastic jars. I do live in the District, and I do compost. And, you know, rats are an issue with everything but again, the way it's managed, there's also bins that you can get. If you live in a small apartment, there's so many different containers that you can use that you've recycled from something else, even, to keep your food in. So that waiting for a week to go to the farmers' market, what do you do with it? You know, sometimes in the summer you stick it in the refrigerator until it's time to go to the Compost Cab stands at the food market.

  • 13:05:34

    GRAYSo, I think there's so many small shifts that consumers can make that they don't even realize that we'll just shift perspective. And, as a matter of fact, there's another point to this, that is catching food before it goes to compost and what prevents it from even going. Because I think the goal around this table is to keep food out of landfills, whether it's compost or not. I work with a food rescue group that, after there's so many large parties, where there's a lot of wasted food, a big banquet. That's where a lot of food waste comes from.

  • 13:06:08

    GRAYAnd it used to be not possible for restaurants to donate this uneaten food, untouched food to any kind of organization. Now, it's not only legal, it's easy. It's an app on our phone. We work with Food Rescue U.S. After every banquet or large party we have, they come and pick up the food and distribute it directly to organizations.

  • 13:06:30

    SIMONSAnd we're running out of time. I'm curious, is anyone else trying to follow your lead, very quickly, restaurant wise?

  • 13:06:36

    GRAYI hope so. (laugh) I think there's definitely a group of us out there that...

  • 13:06:39

    BROSOWSKYYeah, we work with dozens of organizations in composting.

  • 13:06:41

    SIMONSAwesome. Well, once again, Jeremy Brosowsky, Neil Seldman, Adam Ortiz and Ellen Kassoff, thank you so much for being here with us. This segment about trash and composting was produced by Kayla Hewitt. And our conversation with Montgomery County acting police chief Jones was produced by Ingalisa Schrobsdorff.

  • 13:06:59

    SIMONSComing up tomorrow on the Politics Hour, we get an update on the D.C. Council, which had a contentious final session on sports gambling contracts and questions about Councilmember Jack Evans' ethics before it went on summer recess last week. And we'll hear about Virginia's almost nonexistent special legislative session on gun violence. That's all tomorrow, on the Politics Hour, at noon. Until next time, I'm Sasha-Ann Simons, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi.


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