Composting is straightforward. Take organic material, put it all together in a pile, and let it rot until it becomes humus. Grass, general yard debris, and food waste constitute 26.8 percent of MSW. [85] Collecting such material at curbside, while not costless, is not all that difficult.

Oakland County, Michigan mandates composting and households put grass and other yard wastes in specially marked "biodegradable" plastic bags for pick-up. It's then taken to a site where it's laid out in huge piles and allowed to rot overtime. Turning it to diffuse oxygen through the mass speeds decomposition, and generates carbon dioxide. Allowing it to rot internally without access to oxygen infusion takes longer and generates methane. Both carbon dioxide and methane are "greenhouse gases." The end product is compost and, theoretically, ought to have market value as top soil for greenhouses, family gardens, city parks, or anywhere else someone wants plants to grow.

There can be no doubt that any plan which could totally divert compostable material from landfills would have a significant impact on extending the life of landfills. The only problem is that once it has been collected and placed out to rot, problems arise. Moreover, even when it has rotted into humus, problems arise.

Compost piles stink. Oakland County, Michigan's Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority (SOCRRA), handles trash for 14 southeastern Oakland County communities with a combined population of more than 400,000 and collects about 270 tons of yard waste a day. SOCRRA currently takes this waste to a site where nature is allowed to take her course. Rochester Hills, Michigan, a very trendy town near the compost pile, sought and obtained a preliminary injunction against SOCRRA's stinking grass pile.

By picking-up the compostables in bags, SOCRRA hoped to save time and labor costs. The problem is that the bags and their contents take up to two years to produce the humus that is the end product of composting. SOCRRA thought about chopping the bags as soon as they arrived at the compost site but that created mechanical problems for the mulching machine's 18-inch blades. Moreover, once chopped-up, the waste would have to be periodically turned, or aerated, to reduce odors. Despite the biological fact that aeration would reduce time-to-humus by one year, the added labor and maintenance would further drive up costs.

So that's where the issue stands. SOCRRA wants to collect compostables to save landfill tipping fees and those who live anywhere the compost pile want it to stop. [86]

Bay City, Michigan has a similar problem. The City and surrounding township are planning a big composting program to avoid landfill tipping fees and have received $119,000 from the State to buy the necessary equipment. The only problem is, no one anywhere near the proposed compost site wants it. Legal battles are now underway. [87]

Solve all those problems with compost and there's still one more. Rep. George Hochbrueckner, (noted above) author of HR 500 which mandates recycling and federal funding of research into finding potential markets for recyclable materials, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Agricultural Subcommittee on Department Operations, Research, and Foreign Agriculture on some of the problems with composting. "The instability of markets is a serious problem", he told the Committee. [88]

Communities all over the country which have become involved in collecting for composting are finding it almost impossible to sell it. Mr. N.C. Vasuki, General Manager of the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, blamed the federal government, [89] A lack of federal health and contamination standards is one of the main reasons agricultural and infrastructural markets have failed to materialize, he charged. In response to these problems, Mr. Michael Simpson of Boston's Energy Systems Research Group now argues that there must be a thorough examination of costs and benefits before any community tries composting as a major disposal option. [90]

If mandated composting, with all its attendant collection and processing costs, may by called the triumph of hope over experience, mandated recycling carries with it some of the same characteristics. But government-mandated recycling has powerful political appeal and with that, its day in the halls of power. What that may mean for workable political management of MSW is next.