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I want to start a town-wide composting system  RSS feed

 
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It doesn't seem like it is that complicated.
People bring their leaves and appropriate kitchen waste to a location.

Objections people will raise:
animals. (I've been composting this way for 17 years, and only once found a mice nest in my compost.)
how to keep out in appropriate contributions?
How to maintain the right balance.

I would love to hear if anyone has done this in their town, or knows of a town that has, or has any links.

I am starting by next Wednesday going to a meeting of the local Sustainable group.
I know people have brought this up before, and it has been talked down, so I want to arm myself with as much data and rebuttal to objections as I can.

thanks very much!
 
garden master
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The problems that I see are:

Where to have the location
Is it financially possible

Probably getting the City Council involved by explaining this could benefit the City by offering a place to dump leaves and grass from cutting the grass on city parks

I hope this information will allow you to do some research and find things to offer in a positive way.


Here is a thread that might give you some ideas:

https://permies.com/t/54255/started-community-yard-waste-veggie

My thoughts from that thread:

I feel you will have trouble finding a suitable container for a city to use and a way to dump it. Unless you can convince the local trash service to donate a dumpster.  I recently check on prices to have a small dumpster for my place. They wanted something like $700 to bring it out and $125.00 a month for the rental.  That price is not bad if every resident is will to pay a share.

What are other cities using?  Here is a PDF I found while trying to look at the bins other cities are using.  I wasn't helpful for that but does has some good info.



http://highfieldscomposting.org/sites/default/files/files/resources/growing-local-fertility-4_0.pdf
 
ellen rosner
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Thank you very much for your thoughts, and the links...

you have given me a place to start my research...

thanks again,
ellen
 
pollinator
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The largest concern with anything like this is how will you assure that it will be maintained?  Having the best intentions are not a sufficient guarantee that it will be kept-up and carefully looked after.

1.  People will start use it as a dump for all things organic like their food waste and leaves . . . and then larger stuff like tree limbs and scrap lumber and that giant tree stump that they dug out for two days with a massive excavator.

2.  And then one morning you'll show up and there is an old mattress, a dead washer and drier, and 800 lbs. of waste concrete, brick and shingles from a tear-down.  So . . . someone will need to police the yard, fence it, inspect loads coming in . . . strict limits on what can or cannot be dropped off.

3.  It will smell.  It will.  Maintaining a large public compost facility is very different from a home pile where you just throw in a handful of browns and turn the pile quickly to absorb odors.  You'll want your site downwind from any NIMBY's, and any trucks that are delivering compostables to your site will need access from a non-residential street.

4.  Anything of a decent commercial size (like more than 2 acres) will attract pests.  Sea gulls, rats, raccoons . . . those sorts of friends.  Try keeping sea gulls out once they've found that there is an easy source of food.

5.  Cities are worried about liability.  If there is the remotest chance that someone might be hurt, they run for legal council and wrap everyone up in bubble wrap.  Any plan you present to the city needs to have that base covered.  Have your own legal counsel speak to issues of assumption of risk and release of liability. 

I wish you well.  I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, but I worked for years to try to get my city to just make the wood chips available from the city tree trimmer.  How complicated would that be?  Just dump them somewhere and let citizens come by of their own free will and pick them up.  10 years later, they are still considering it.  Wood chips.  Nothing stinky, nothing needing to be turned, nothing that would attract vermin . . . and they are still so risk averse. 


Perhaps an alternative would be to start a compost club, with membership, insiders vs. outsiders . . . only the cool kids get to come in.  Membership requires that you show up every two weeks to put in an hour of turning, but membership has its rewards (2 yards of compost every couple of months).  If you can only get into the club by membership or application, it would keep the slackers out and you'd be able to maintain quality and keep the expectations up regarding what gets composted.
 
pollinator
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Austinpedallers.com is something you might look into. Their website is down, not sure if that means it is no more. Hopefully just a temporary glitch.

From a permie point of view, its great. People set out their box of compostables. Guys on special rigged bicycles come and pick it up. Its something that would have to be established neighborhood by neighborhood becsuse of the bicycles range.  The great part is the regionality means no 2 acre heaps.

I think its a membership. I think they swap out with you, bringing you a share of the compost.

It recieved national exposure when it was on an episode of "growing a greener world".

City wide is huge and a red tape nightmare, something like this that can be scaled neighborhood by neighborhood seems encouraging.
 
ellen rosner
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thanks, I will look at austin pedallers.

Coincidentally yesterday I was talking to someone about my idea, and he said that there is someone in my town, a bicyclist, who is interested in starting a compost "route". I will talk to him.





wayne fajkus wrote:Austinpedallers.com is something you might look into. Their website is down, not sure if that means it is no more. Hopefully just a temporary glitch.

From a permie point of view, its great. People set out their box of compostables. Guys on special rigged bicycles come and pick it up. Its something that would have to be established neighborhood by neighborhood becsuse of the bicycles range.  The great part is the regionality means no 2 acre heaps.

I think its a membership. I think they swap out with you, bringing you a share of the compost.

It recieved national exposure when it was on an episode of "growing a greener world".

City wide is huge and a red tape nightmare, something like this that can be scaled neighborhood by neighborhood seems encouraging.

 
ellen rosner
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that is also one of my concerns -- one cannot rely on people being conscientious about what they put in the bin. Either out of ignorance, inattention, or prankiness  - if it is open, anything might end up in it.

mine is a small town, and there would not be trucks involved. Not too many people would bring their leaves to compost -- because in my town, one just puts bags of leaves on the street and they are picked up. I've been told that the city sells these leaves to another town.

wow-- too bad about the wood chips-- My town at least always has a pile of wood chips.

yes, I have been thinking along the lines of membership. It would need a gate, with a combination that only members had, like my community garden.
One needs to have some control.

thanks for your input.



Marco Banks wrote:The largest concern with anything like this is how will you assure that it will be maintained?  Having the best intentions are not a sufficient guarantee that it will be kept-up and carefully looked after.

1.  People will start use it as a dump for all things organic like their food waste and leaves . . . and then larger stuff like tree limbs and scrap lumber and that giant tree stump that they dug out for two days with a massive excavator.

2.  And then one morning you'll show up and there is an old mattress, a dead washer and drier, and 800 lbs. of waste concrete, brick and shingles from a tear-down.  So . . . someone will need to police the yard, fence it, inspect loads coming in . . . strict limits on what can or cannot be dropped off.

3.  It will smell.  It will.  Maintaining a large public compost facility is very different from a home pile where you just throw in a handful of browns and turn the pile quickly to absorb odors.  You'll want your site downwind from any NIMBY's, and any trucks that are delivering compostables to your site will need access from a non-residential street.

4.  Anything of a decent commercial size (like more than 2 acres) will attract pests.  Sea gulls, rats, raccoons . . . those sorts of friends.  Try keeping sea gulls out once they've found that there is an easy source of food.

5.  Cities are worried about liability.  If there is the remotest chance that someone might be hurt, they run for legal council and wrap everyone up in bubble wrap.  Any plan you present to the city needs to have that base covered.  Have your own legal counsel speak to issues of assumption of risk and release of liability. 

I wish you well.  I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, but I worked for years to try to get my city to just make the wood chips available from the city tree trimmer.  How complicated would that be?  Just dump them somewhere and let citizens come by of their own free will and pick them up.  10 years later, they are still considering it.  Wood chips.  Nothing stinky, nothing needing to be turned, nothing that would attract vermin . . . and they are still so risk averse. 


Perhaps an alternative would be to start a compost club, with membership, insiders vs. outsiders . . . only the cool kids get to come in.  Membership requires that you show up every two weeks to put in an hour of turning, but membership has its rewards (2 yards of compost every couple of months).  If you can only get into the club by membership or application, it would keep the slackers out and you'd be able to maintain quality and keep the expectations up regarding what gets composted.

 
gardener
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All of the cities and towns I know of that have this sort of operation have set it up so the municipality does the gathering, sorting and composting, it is part of the city operations budget and they then sell the compost to offset operation costs.
 
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In my area, the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, there is municipal cooperation in collecting leaves. Some collect paper bags of leaves from the curb and some vacuum the leaves off the street. The difference is how much leaves there are in the community. Which is really how many trees there are and which trees. An oak trees leaves are more like shingles than a maples which seem to dissipate on their own. Or a locusts leaves which are so small that they don't amount to much. The bags are sold by the township or at the big box stores. Those bags are not made to fill, they're about half the diameter of a rake. When you drop your leaves, most fall back on the ground. The bags are made to accommodate the employees who lift them all day long.

The leaves are dumped in an out of the way part in a large county park. To get to the site you have to go thru the maintenance facility of the park. I don't believe they allow individuals access. The compost is hauled to a field at one of the cooperating townships facilities where individuals can load and haul it for no cost. As mentioned above the compost is full of trash, mostly grocery store plastic bags. Because of the trash in it I would never use it in a vegetable garden. And then since I know of barns where I can get horse manure I go for that instead.

They don't allow grass clippings in the leaves at the curb, because it would increase the load count each year. However if a home owner is bagging the leaves with his mower the leafs will have some grass with it for most of the fall. But if the color shows mostly leafs then they ignore the clippings at the curb.

I know of one home where they pick up a whole dump truck load off that one property. They get there, fill that truck, change trucks fill that, change again, finish and leave. I once asked the crew if that was their "best account". The guy said "it's one of them".
 
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ellen rosner wrote:It doesn't seem like it is that complicated.
People bring their leaves and appropriate kitchen waste to a location.

Objections people will raise:
animals. (I've been composting this way for 17 years, and only once found a mice nest in my compost.)
how to keep out in appropriate contributions?
How to maintain the right balance.

I would love to hear if anyone has done this in their town, or knows of a town that has, or has any links.

I am starting by next Wednesday going to a meeting of the local Sustainable group.
I know people have brought this up before, and it has been talked down, so I want to arm myself with as much data and rebuttal to objections as I can.

thanks very much!



If you have the space for it, it seems like a great idea. What would you use as your planning assumption for how much space you would need? If I were trying to calculate that, I would try to derive some estimate on a per household level of how much compostable matter would be contributed on a monthly basis. You could then use that, along with your rate of decomposition, to determine how much space you would need for your town. From there you could determine how much open space you might also need to ensure that pests and other nusainces are properly abated. Presenting your case to your town in that manner might head off any land use or zoning concerns. You probably want to avoid the perception that you are starting a new town dump.
 
gardener
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When my sister lived in a condo in Boston that didn't allow composting, she saved her compost for a pedalling compost guy who would come by with a cart on specified days and pick it up.

This kind of system would require much more involvement from you, but also allows you to strictly control what materials you receive. If anyone puts out yucky mixed crap that was on the "Do not include" list, they can be cut from future collections.

It is sad but true that while some people would be conscientious and deliver only truly compostable things, others would think it's just a convenient place to drop off mixed garbage.
 
ellen rosner
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I've learned of someone in my town who does that -pedalling compost guy. Love it.
He's out of town, in Nicaragua, will talk to him when he comes back.
I think definitely control is needed.
Otherwise, all kinds of junk can end up in it.


Rebecca Norman wrote:When my sister lived in a condo in Boston that didn't allow composting, she saved her compost for a pedalling compost guy who would come by with a cart on specified days and pick it up.

This kind of system would require much more involvement from you, but also allows you to strictly control what materials you receive. If anyone puts out yucky mixed crap that was on the "Do not include" list, they can be cut from future collections.

It is sad but true that while some people would be conscientious and deliver only truly compostable things, others would think it's just a convenient place to drop off mixed garbage.

 
garden master
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For a bit of inspiration - here is a video about Karl Hammer, and Vermont Composting, and how they got started in the compost business.  Which expanded into the chicken egg business, as well.  In this video he tells the history of the farm, how they sort of accidentally got into the compost business, and how they feed hundreds of chickens on only compost - no grain.  So inspiring!

He also explains the critical importance of water runoff management, both to keep the surrounding ecosystems pure (surface and subsurface water in particular) and also to keep from losing their product (nitrogen and other nutrients) to the surrounding land.  They have nice pristine-looking ponds on their property, so that's a really good sign... and to Hammer he explains it's actually a measurement for them. 

My personal observation - one of the ponds had duckweed in it and I've found duckweed grows best in good, clean conditions.  So a good sign.  Whereas cyanobacteria blooms on the surface of the water are a sign of significant phosphorus pollution.  Anyways, managing runoff will probably be required by whatever permitting agency is in your area, so lots to think about.  You might also wish to look into greywater systems, and if they are allowed in your region.



I'm rather excited about this topic right now.  It's the best one of the Justin Rhodes Great American Farm Tour videos that I've watched thus far.  I'm glad he was able to spend as much time as he did at that farm and with Hammer!
 
ellen rosner
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The compost Pedallers

"In Austin, locals can have the best of both words. Using the clean energy of pedal power, the Compost Pedallers will bike to your door, pick up your weekly collection, and haul it off to a nearby farm to do the dirty work for you. Keeping it local and out of the landfill, while producing an abundance of compost, is a winning recipe and business model that’s as green as it gets and growing fast."


https://www.growingagreenerworld.com/episode-811-compost-pedallers/

 
John Duda
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If you live in a municipality that bans composting here's an idea for you. On a daily basis take your veggie scraps, with your egg shells, coffee grounds, etc out and bury it in your garden or in a bed, where ever you want to improve your soil. Between rows, between plants. In much of the winter, even where the soil freezes there will still be a lot of days where your veggie garden is diggable. If on the coldest days where you can't dig if you just leave it the garden, in a bag, or in a predug hole you can throw some dirt over it from the other side of the hole that's advancing thru your garden later when you can dig.

From my experience by spring if you dig up your garden you will have a hard time finding any identifiable items from what you dug in even late in the winter. Well other than egg shells. Don't use any meat scraps or you could have raccoons, dogs, or coyotes digging up your garden and exposing the evidence, er I mean compost. Egg shells I just leave separated and after they've been rinsed off by rain I pick them up and crumble them in my hand.

Also if you spread your grass clippings thruout your gardens it doesn't take long before they disappear. If you overdo chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides you won't have any microbes in the soil and your grass clippings will just lay there blocking weeds from growing. When I mow I blow the clippings out of the mower and by the following week they're gone. I never did a study on how many days it took for the microbes to eat the clippings, they're just Gone!

 
John Duda
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When I moved to Philadelphia 50 years ago I had a hard time learning the trash rules. They collected trash and garbage on different days of the week. The rumor was that the garbage was taken to Jersey to feed pigs. But I constantly got called if I referred to a garbage can... No! that's a trash can, or versa visa.

But it's something to make you take notice, millions of people sorting out their trash. Today it'd sure be hard, sorting trash, garbage, recyclables, and garden waste all on different days. I can't find any mention of the trash/garbage issue on the internet. I didn't even find a mention of when they ended it, if they did.

 
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John Duda wrote:If you live in a municipality that bans composting here's an idea for you. On a daily basis take your veggie scraps, with your egg shells, coffee grounds, etc out and bury it in your garden or in a bed, where ever you want to improve your soil. Between rows, between plants. In much of the winter, even where the soil freezes there will still be a lot of days where your veggie garden is diggable.



Great idea for city dwellers. I've been pondering whether I need to compost everything first or could just layer it along with small branches, wood chips, leaves, and weeds in building a hugelkultur type bed and let it compost as it will.

In rural areas, cities or counties take the chips created when the power lines are cleared of tree branches. They pile those up and turn them with heavy machinery. Then anyone from that city / county can have 1 or 2 pickup loads a month or week for free. If they want more, they have to pay as does anyone not from that city or county.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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