Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Factors Associated with Backyard Composting Behavior at the Household Level

Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Factors Associated with Backyard Composting Behavior at the Household Level

Article excerpt

Communities in most states are under pressure to reduce the amount of solid waste going into landfills. Many are making efforts to encourage their citizens to practice backyard composting. A logit regression analysis was conducted to identify factors associated with backyard composting of yard and food wastes in a case study area. Sample data were obtained through a September 1997 telephone survey of 865 households residing in single-family dwellings in Knox County, Tennessee. Findings indicate that a number of variables reflecting complementary behavior, attitudes, knowledge, and peer influence were significantly related to composting behavior. Policy implications of these findings are outlined.

Key Words: composting, food waste, solid waste, yard waste

During the 1990s, most states enacted municipal solid waste management legislation establishing a goal to achieve a certain recycling rate or to reduce the amount of waste reaching landfills or incinerators by a certain percentage relative to a base year. As of 2001, very few states had met or even come close to achieving their goals (Goldstein and Madtes, 2001). A general recognition now exists that substantial further increases in recycling rates for traditional materials (e.g., aluminum, steel, glass, plastics, and newsprint) will be difficult to achieve. Attention in recent years has thus been increasingly focused upon organic materials which can be composted, especially yard waste and food scraps.

Based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, 230 million tons of municipal solid waste were generated in 1999. Of this amount, 12.1 % was estimated to be yard waste, and 10.9% food waste (U.S. EPA, 2002). To address the yard waste component, 21 states have implemented some form of ban on disposal of yard wastes in landfills, and many communities have established programs providing curbside collection and composting of yard wastes (Goldstein and Madtes, 1999). According to EPA, about 45% of the yard waste in the United States was collected, composted, or recycled in some way in 1999, but at an estimated cost of nearly $90 per ton (U.S. EPA, 1999). With regard to food waste, EPA estimated only 5% was composted or recycled in 1999, while a 2000 study in Seattle found that the largest portion of waste not already addressed by recycling programs is compostable food, representing about 31 % (Bagby and Tarnecki, 2001).

Results of pilot programs have shown curbside collection of food residuals adds another level of complexity and cost to a solid waste management system (Farrell, 2001). Consequently, some solid waste management specialists have emphasized the potential contribution backyard composting (BYC) can make. A study of 20 BYC programs operating during 1993-1994 concluded their cost per ton of waste diverted-at generally less than $20 per ton-was much lower than the cost per ton for traditional collection and disposal systems (Applied Compost Consulting, 1996).

Tennessee's 1991 Solid Waste Management Act required solid waste regions (one or more counties) to reduce the tonnage of disposed waste per capita by 25% by 1996. About half of the 63 regions in the state failed to achieve the goal by that date, and were granted a five-year extension. In 1998, the methodology for calculating progress toward the 25% waste reduction goal was modified to account for the differential impact of economic growth across regions, and the deadline was extended to 2003. Many regions projected in their original plans to achieve as much as 10% waste reduction by diverting yard waste and other organic material through BYC programs. However, very little progress in this regard can be documented to date.

A number of articles in waste industry magazines have described community programs designed to encourage BYC. Some have reported estimates of the percentage of households practicing BYC ranging from 2% to 60% (Riggle, 1996a, b; Sherman, 1996a, b; Vossen and Rilla, 1997). …

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