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Live with Purpose - April 19, 2024

Composting – Going Green at Goodwin Living

by Amanda Ranowsky

If you think compost is just extra smelly garbage, think again.

For residents at two of the Goodwin Living senior living communities – Goodwin House Alexandria (GHA) and Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads (GHBC) – composting is one of many actions they are taking to support the environment. Passionate about the environment, they want to leave a better world for future generations.

Resident Advocacy

Several years ago, the “Green Team” at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads, a committee of residents who are dedicated to supporting a variety of environmental causes, proposed that Goodwin Living explore composting options. President & CEO Rob Liebreich, another avid compost practitioner and advocate, fully supported the idea.

In his previous position at a life plan community in Maryland, Rob had worked with Compost Crew, a locally-owned composting business operating out of Rockville, Maryland, that serves residences and businesses throughout D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The connection made, Compost Crew began collecting compostable waste from GHA and GHBC in November 2019.

Today, Compost Crew comes to GHA and GHBC three times a week to collect the food scraps and other organic materials that have been set aside in specially designated bins. Dining Services at both GHA and GHBC set up compost collection bins in the main kitchens and dining areas. These areas continue to collect the majority of compostable items from Goodwin Living.

What are the results? From November 2019 through March 2024, both GHA and GHBC together have diverted a total of more than 1,400,000 pounds of waste from landfills. The savings gained by reducing the amount of trash hauled away has offset the costs of the composting program. At Goodwin Living, we call this a “win/win/win.” Resident advocacy turned into an action that benefits the environment, which action in turn pays for itself!

What is Composting?

As we’ve learned from our partnership with Compost Crew, when done right composting isn’t any smellier than normal dirt. Composting itself is a fairly simple process that requires three basic ingredients: browns (e.g. dead leaves, twigs or branches), greens (e.g. grass clippings, food scraps or coffee grounds) and water. Composting can be done outdoors in a pile or a bin, or indoors in a specially designed bin. When properly managed, the compost will neither produce strong smells, nor attract rodents or bugs.

According to The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, more than 50% of the garbage typically set out at the curb is compostable. With the United States sending 167 million tons of garbage to landfills and incinerators each year, that’s more than 80 million tons of planet-renewing compost that could be created.

Composting & Climate Change

We’re going to get scientific for a minute. Environmental benefits of composting go well beyond saving space in landfills. Food scraps in landfills generate methane – the simplest hydrocarbon and a greenhouse gas that’s incredibly damaging to the environment. Compost generated from those scraps has the potential to offset much of our greenhouse emissions by helping the soil to sequester carbon and reduce the impact of methane emissions.

Carbon sequestration occurs when carbon is removed from the atmosphere and stored in oceans, forests, soils and geologic formations. In soil, carbon is taken in by plants and eventually stored in the soil as decomposing plant and animal tissue or soil minerals. Under the right conditions, it can remain in the soil for millennia. Compost has been shown to significantly contribute to soil’s ability to sequester carbon.

Compost: Friend to Gardeners

Once compost is processed, it can be mixed back into the soil, where it provides nutrients, aids soil structure and reduces water runoff. It promotes the bacteria and bugs that make for healthy soil, which in turn keeps plants disease and pest-free. Chemical fertilizers aren’t needed as much when using compost in the soil, because compost already provides more and better nutrients. Gardeners who mix compost into their soil don’t need to use as much – if any – synthetic chemicals and fertilizers to grow strong and plentiful crops.

Reducing Waste During the Pandemic

Our composting measures became especially critical when communal dining was suspended due to the pandemic and all residents were served meals delivered to their doors in to-go containers. With compostable takeaway containers, bags and cutlery we were able to be more environmentally friendly and less wasteful.

Nowadays, our compost collection mostly consists of food scraps from our kitchens and dining venues, though we continue to use compostable containers, green “plastic” bags and cutlery for takeaway meals.

Composting Throughout the Community

Composting in the communal dining areas was just the beginning for the Green Team at GHBC. They wanted residents – who often prepare their own meals in their apartment kitchens – to be able to compost their organic waste, too.

“At a large resident meeting we showed a video recommended by Compost Crew that explains all about composting,” said Jane McKeel, a leading member of the Green Team and long-time resident of GHBC. “There’s so much great information in that video that we made a flyer to go with it that boils down all of the important facts.”

a group of older adults wearing reflective gear
GHBC Green Team members pictured with their tour guide at the Freestate Farms Compost Facility

The Green Team handed out those flyers at several meetings and set up a display table in the common area on the main floor to help explain the difference between composting and recycling and show residents what types of items they could add to the compost bins.

“There’s a bin in the dining area and another in the art room for residents to bring their compostable waste,” said Ms. McKeel. Why the art room? “Every week a team of residents creates several exquisite flower arrangements there, which are then used to beautify our common areas. The floral arrangers compost all of the cuttings that would otherwise go in the trash.”

two older adults in reflective gear standing outside at a composting facility
Two GHBC Green Team members stand near the area where waste is sorted at the composting facility

The education didn’t stop there. In March 2024, six GHBC Green Team members also drove to the large commercial composting operation which handles the waste collected by Compost Crew. At Freestate Farms Balls Ford Road Compost Facility in Manassas, Va., their expert guide explained how both food and yard waste are sorted, ground up and mixed together in the correct proportions before starting the composting process. Engineers using state-of-the-art technology monitor huge piles of material as it turns into high-quality compost.

The GHA Green Team has also spent time educating residents to properly use the compost bins available to them. “On Earth Day last year (2023), the GHA community invested in a commitment to separating out recycling, batteries, glass and compost,” said Pat Gottemoeller, resident and GHA Green Team coordinator. “Our Green Team has worked in coordination with Environmental Services to educate the residents on how to use these new containers and especially what items are compostable. We are pleased that residents have supported and adopted the new recycling and composting practices.”

Reaping the Rewards

There’s an added benefit to partnering with Compost Crew. Twice a year, Compost Crew delivers several bags of compost to each Goodwin Living campus, where they’re used in communal flowerbeds, vegetable gardens and even distributed among residents who want to use some compost for their balcony plants.

Ms. McKeel voiced the enthusiasm of the residents for the composting initiative at Goodwin Living. “We’re thrilled,” she said. “I’d say the majority of residents here really are interested in supporting sustainability. Imagine what it would mean for the health of our entire earth if everyone in the world composted food and yard waste!”

“We’d love to be able to do even more,” said Ms. Gottemoeller. “With composting and other recycling initiatives, there is so much potential for keeping things out of our landfills and helping the environment.”

As Goodwin Living looks forward to expanding its composting initiative, it’s evident that great strides have already been made. “I’m delighted that our team members and residents have come together to support this environmentally-friendly cause,” said Goodwin Living President & CEO Rob Liebreich. “We look forward to continuing and growing this composting program for many years to come.”

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As Marketing & Communications Specialist, Amanda Ranowsky partners with colleagues throughout Goodwin Living to tell our stories and raise brand awareness. From printed collateral to digital marketing, Amanda covers many bases. Before joining GHI, Amanda worked for a small, family-owned business where she gained experience in content marketing. Amanda’s creative expression extends beyond the office. She is an active member of community theater and chorus groups.

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