Keep It on the Island, Using What We Have
Island Resilience

Keep It on the Island, Using What We Have

By Nancy O’Connor, President, Zero Waste Vashon

Did you know that compost is not only good for your plants, but also a powerful tool to fight climate change?

Turning our yard and food waste into compost, instead of sending it to the landfill, reduces greenhouse gasses in several ways. Food scraps that are put in the garbage get sent to the landfill. Once there, they decompose anaerobically, which creates methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is far more powerful than CO2. Although some methane is captured at the landfill, some escapes, and even more is burned off in “flares” instead of being put to good use. 

Food and yard waste that are made into compost do not emit methane. In addition, when compost is applied to the soil, it increases the soil’s natural ability to sequester carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere. 

Compost that you make and use at home is the gold standard. It is the ultimate “closed loop” system, with no fossil fuels used to transport or process it. You know exactly what goes in and you see the quality of what comes out.

But what if you don’t have the time or space to make your own compost? Here on Vashon, we are able to take our yard and food waste to the Transfer Station. It is then collected and shipped off-Island 35 miles to the Cedar Grove composting facility in Redmond. Here, it is combined with organic material from the greater King County area and made into compost. A portion of this compost is then bagged and shipped back to the Island for sale at retail locations. Compost from other large, regional facilities is also sold on the Island.

Because it has to be shipped both off-Island and back on again, the carbon footprint of this compost is significantly greater than compost you would make at home. In addition, the fact that much of the material used to make this compost is collected in large urban areas means that it is much more prone to contamination with non-compostable materials such as plastic. 

Two recent articles in The Vashon Loop discussed the issue of plastic contamination in compost and the problems it can cause when applied to the soil. They also highlighted the wonderful community effort that went into helping one of our residents when they found they had applied a contaminated load to their field. 

It is this same community spirit that could well provide a middle ground between homemade compost and that shipped in from large off-Island facilities. For over 4 years, Zero Waste Vashon has been working with King County to establish a community-scale composting facility on Vashon. 

Such a facility would allow our Island to collect its food and yard waste, turn it into high-quality compost, and make it available for use in our own gardens, farms, and properties. Instead of shipping this valuable resource to a distant landfill, we would be putting it to good use by improving our soils and reducing our carbon footprint. 

Another benefit of a local facility is the impact we could have when it comes to reducing contamination. It will be our friends and neighbors who will be contributing the food and yard waste, and also using the end product. With proper education and encouragement, people are far more likely to keep plastic and other contaminants out of the waste they drop off when they know it could end up in their or their neighbor’s garden. The desire to care for both our neighbors and the earth is so strong on Vashon, it will surely show up in the quality of our compost!

ZWV is also working with King County and Waste Connections (who owns Murrey’s) to offer curbside pickup of food and yard waste. This is a service that is already available to all residents of King County except those living on Vashon. In addition to being a huge convenience for many Island residents, curbside pickup would greatly reduce the amount of food waste going to the landfill, and provide valuable feedstock for a local compost facility. 

As we continue to work with the County, ZWV would love to hear from you! The county has a webpage describing the many steps that have been taken so far as a part of this process. Please also check out our website for home composting resources, at, or contact us with comments or questions at

Last but not least, International Compost Awareness Week is May 7-11; for more information, please visit

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May 8, 2023

About Author

nancy Nancy O’Connor is President of Zero Waste Vashon, the mission of which is to make Vashon a model Green community. Nancy has been interested and active in environmental issues since her childhood, and served as Executive Director of the Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation, chaired the City of Seattle Solid Waste Advisory Committee and King County Commission for Marketing Recyclable Materials, and was the Non-Profit representative of the WA Dept. of Ecology Solid Waste Advisory Committee. Nancy’s specific areas of interest are compost, plastics, and Green building.