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Montgomery County, Maryland Passes Strategic Plan to Advance Composting

| Written by Nick Stumo-Langer | No Comments | Updated on Jan 10, 2017 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/montgomery-county-maryland-2016-legislation/

On November 28th, 2016, Montgomery County’s chief executive Isiah Leggett signed the “Strategic Plan to Advance Composting, Compost Use, and Food Waste Diversion in Montgomery County,” culminating a process that was in-the-works for much of 2016.

The law may be the first in the country to stipulate a diverse and distributed plan that considers food rescue, backyard composting, community scale composting, on-site institutional and commercial composting, on-farm composting, and local use of compost in order to support soil health and the County’s stormwater management program.

The law, which is available here, requires Montgomery County’s Director of Environmental Protection (DEP) to “develop a Strategic Plan to advance composting, compost use, and food waste diversion” by January 1st, 2018. The law also requires the DEP to submit an annual report each year documenting progress towards achieving the goals of the plan.

Institute for Local Self-Reliance co-director Brenda Platt was instrumental in moving this bill forward in partnership with County Council President (then Council Vice President), Roger Berliner and the Montgomery County Food Council’s Environmental Impact Working Group.

Organic Waste Diversion Infrastructure in Montgomery County, Maryland

There are a number of reasons that Montgomery County’s action on this matter is significant for the overall impact of organic waste diversion, including:

  • Montgomery County is the largest county, by population, in Maryland.

  • The county is one of the most diverse counties in the country, with 30% of residents hailing from countries outside of the United States.
  • Montgomery County is a part of the greater Baltimore, MD-Washington, D.C. metro area, and it makes up a large part of the more than 6 million residents of the area.
  • Administratively, Montgomery County is in charge of the solid waste across their territory, with a select few incorporated cities that make those decisions, locally.

All of these factors ensure that any legislation enacted in Montgomery County could become model legislation for cities and counties across the country. Montgomery County contains a number of urban, suburban, and exurban areas.

Bill 28-16 Origins and Hearing

Bill 28-16 was developed in close partnership between the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Council-member Berliner, his staff, as well as the Montgomery County Food Council. On June 28th, 2016, Berliner introduced the legislation to the Montgomery County Council. At the time of introduction, Bill 28-16 already had the support of six of the nine council members.

The public hearing on the bill took place on Tuesday, July 19th at 1 pm in Rockville, Maryland. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Brenda Platt submitted testimony on the benefits of the bill in person.

Twelve individuals testified on the bill, all of them in favor of its implementation. The list of those testifying is as follows:

  • Eileen Kao, Department of Environmental Protection
  • Aliza Fishbein, Agricultural Advisory Committee
  • Heather Bruskin, Montgomery County Food Council
  • Ryan Walter, The Compost Crew
  • Cheryl Kollin, Community Food Rescue
  • Doug Alexander, Backyardcomposting.org
  • Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Susan Eisendrath & Brian Ditzler, Sierra Club Montgomery County
  • Kit Gage, Friends of Sligo Creek
  • Paul Tukey, Glenstone
  • Ane Sturm, Sugarloaf Citizens Association

Video of the testimony is available here (Brenda Platt begins her testimony at 19:50):

Outside of the in-person testimony, a number of organizations submitted letters expressing their support, including the Maryland Horse Council, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, and the Maryland Sierra Club.

In a follow-up to the hearing, Heather Bruskin of the Montgomery County Food Council noted that, “The large turnout made a strong impression [on the entire council] of the significant support behind this bill.”

Montgomery County Council Bill 28-16 Sponsors and Testifiers, July 19th, 2016. [Photo Credit: Montgomery County Food Council]

Bill 28-16 Changes and Montgomery County Council Vote

In the ensuing months, a few changes were made to the bill’s text, including:

  • Extending the deadline for enactment of the Strategic Plan from July 1st, 2017 to October 1st, 2017.
  • Removing the language in the bill regarding impacts of private, residential trash hauling in up-county areas.
  • Adding stakeholders from a number of different areas, including: “Community Food Rescue, the Maryland Horse Council, the governing bodies of all County municipalities, and organizations and individuals in the County involved in compost production and use and food waste diversion.”

The bill packet, available from the Montgomery County Council’s website, includes all of these proposed changes, their committee recommendations, and copies of all of the bill’s verbal and written testimony.

On November 15th, 2016, the Montgomery County Council voted on Bill 28-16 and, by a vote of 9-0, Bill 28-16 passed.

See video of the vote, below:

The bill was then signed by the chief executive of Montgomery County, Isaiah Leggett, on November 28th, 2016.

Bill 28-16 As Model Composting Legislation

This legislation is an important first step in ensuring that distributed, small-scale composting has a seat at the table in the discussion of recycling and the waste stream. The fact that this legislation is in force in one of the most diverse counties in one of the largest metro areas of the country speaks to the crucial nature of a Strategic Plan to increase the prevalence of composting.

Many communities and metro areas can include these concerns on a on an agency policy level, rather than a legislative one. By setting the stage and requiring departments such as the Department of Environmental Protection in Montgomery County, Maryland, to consider distributed, small-scale composting to achieve their goals, this law further normalizes composting as a way to revitalize local soils, build community wealth, and shore up food deserts across their territory.

Already, small-scale composting legislation is in the works in a number of states, including in the Maryland General Assembly.

We at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance recognize the reality that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to diverting organic material from the waste stream. However, this unique legislation can and should be used as a model to adapt what will work best in your community.

Photo Credit: Andrew Bossi via Wikimedia Commons (CC 2.0)

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