Berkeley’s Free Compost Closes the Loop

Hands holding soilLocally based and free, the compost available at the Berkeley Marina is a wonderful community resource! It models the concept of a circular economy, where a resource is used and reused in a cycle that turns “waste” back into new products or materials that can reenter the supply chain. Through Berkeley’s compost program, organic waste, like food scraps and yard trimmings, is collected through curbside collection then transported to the Recology Blossom Valley Organics facility in Vernalis, California. At this 216-acre composting site, the organic waste is broken down into a nutrient-rich soil amendment, compost. 

A portion of this compost is transported back to Berkeley and made available to residents, who can then start the cycle again by using the compost to grow food and other plants. Closed Loop Partners says it best, “keeping food and organic materials in play not only mitigates the greenhouse gasses that are emitted when these go to landfill, but also creates opportunities to use these nutrient-rich resources to regenerate our soils, create clean energy and drive value across the system.” 

Though SB 1383, a state law that went into effect January 1, 2022, requires all municipalities to collect organic waste from both residents and businesses to be composted, Berkeley is one of few municipalities that make the finished product easily available to residents for free. 

Is it safe? 

Yes! A common misconception is that the compost available at the Marina is not safe to use for growing food. The Ecology Center Help Desk recently received an inquiry from a resident who was warned by their friends that this compost is not safe because it could contain heavy metals or harmful pathogens. But there’s no need for alarm! 

According to CalRecycle’s 2021 report on the Blossom Valley Organics facility, the compost is checked for contaminants, like plastic or animal carcasses, at multiple points during the composting process. The organic waste that’s transported in is checked when it is unloaded at arrival, a number of times during the composting process, and again as a part of the finished product’s final screening. The compost at the facility is also kept at 131°F for a minimum of 15 days, which kills pathogens and unwanted seeds. Another safeguard is that the compost is regularly tested by Recology staff and a third party lab for heavy metals, fecal coliform, and salmonella. If the compost is found to have elevated metal concentrations or pathogens, it is either processed again or disposed of off-site at a landfill. 

Plants sprouting in soilAdditionally, you can also rest easy knowing that the compost supplied at the Marina maintains multiple third-party certifications. It is a registered Organic Input Material (OIM) with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, meaning that it is routinely tested and found to meet the standards put forth by the product label. Similarly, it is US Composting Council Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) certified, which means it is rigorously tested and accurately labeled. Compost produced at the Recology Blossom Valley Organics facility is used at more than 200 farms and vineyards throughout the state of California. 

If you’re still curious, see the compost’s properties yourself by requesting the latest compost analysis on the Recology website.

When and where can I get free compost?

Compost is delivered to the Marina year-round every Friday and is available to Berkeley residents on a first-come-first-serve basis starting at 6:30am. The compost giveaway site is located just south of the DoubleTree Hilton at 200 Marina Boulevard, on the east side of the street. 

So, enjoy the free soil amendment offered to Berkeley residents, keep your garden healthy, and keep the cycle going by sorting your food and yard waste! For additional guidance on how to take advantage of this nutrient-rich resource, check out our factsheets on building raised beds and planting in the East Bay. Want to learn how to make your own compost at home? Learn more from StopWaste.

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