Youth group hopes new compost barrel in downtown Northampton will catch on in more public places

  • Isaac Weigand-Whittier holds the sign while, from left, Eva Weigand-Whittier and Madeleine Kruckemeyer decide on placement of the newly installed compost barrel in downtown Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Annie Doran, a youth group director with the Unitarian Society, works with, from left, Madeleine Kruckemeyer, Eva Weigand-Whittier and Isaac Weigand-Whittier to install a compost barrel in downtown Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/17/2021 8:20:04 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Members of the Unitarian Society youth group recently installed a new 33-gallon compost barrel outside the church building downtown near city hall in hopes of inspiring city officials and local businesses to provide more public places for composting.

The project was originally slated for completion last summer, but the pandemic forced the group to wait for the past year. The barrel will be officially unveiled Saturday around noon. Compostable materials include food, paper towels, tea bags, and “compostable” labeled food ware.

Members said coordinating all the pieces to ensure this could happen turned out easier than expected.

“It feels good to finally see the barrel here,” Isaac Weigand-Whittier said on Tuesday. He and fellow youth group members were putting the finishing touches on the compost barrel, which they painted colorfully and added signage for acceptable food waste. “The city’s approval went pretty smoothly, and I think it will make a difference in Northampton.”

A group of seven high schoolers coordinated with city officials, Pedal People, and USA Hauling to make the first publicly available compost barrel in the downtown area of the city. The city contracted with Pedal People to remove the compost twice a week, and USA Hauling agreed to provide a free year of hauling the compost to a compost facility.

“Composting is often neglected when looking at the whole climate change dilemma,” Weigand-Whittier said. “Materials that could be composted, but are instead put into landfills, will often release methane gases, which is 33 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So it is really important that those gases are eliminated from our pollutants in order to fix the climate crises.”

Another member of the group, Madelaine Kruckemeyer, a junior, said she wants to get more people aware of their waste habits. She would like to see more compost barrels around the city, too.

“I’m always super proud that Northampton has a ton of businesses that have compostable containers, and I am always excited to see that,” Krukemeyer said. “I think that because there are more takeout containers now that you still can’t eat at a lot of places, it’s important to have places where you can put those. I often have to carry them home and compost them at home. It would be nice to have a lot of these (barrels) downtown. You would just drop (the containers) like you drop trash, but more sustainably.”

In January, the Northampton City Council approved an ordinance that aims to cut down on the use of plastic by restaurants and retail businesses. The rule goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022, and it will require restaurants to stop giving customers food in disposable containers made of Styrofoam or several kinds of plastic.

Containers will also have to be recyclable. The rule will also require restaurants and retail businesses to use disposable ware such as utensils and cups that are biodegradable, compostable, reusable or recyclable.

At the time, Mayor David Narkewicz expressed his desire to grant a one-year extension to businesses if it’s found that the requirement of the ordinance would cause undue hardship to the establishment, and two six-month extensions could be added.

A youth director for the Unitarian Society, Annie Doran, who also works for Pedal People, expressed she felt encouraged by the youth group’s desire to create the compost barrel, and how she hopes it will bring more awareness for public waste behavior.

“If our cities and towns are not supporting composting, then people are not going to do it,” Doran said. “If you support local businesses, you support the local economy, but you can also decrease the amount of trash in landfills, and increase soil with compost and increase job opportunities … The amount of trash we output as a society and country is greatly increased by the amount of food and other compostables we put into the trash.”

Weigand-Whittier summed up the project’s goal with a question: “If a bunch of youths — all pretty much under the age of 18 — can pull this off, then why can’t a business with multiple employees do it?”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com

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