Composting Organic Materials in a City

Composting Organic Materials in a City

ByGroovy Green Aug 13, 2008

In my city our local waste management group picks up big plastic containers (which I call a Yardy) of yard waste material. This can be branches, leaves, grass clippings, etc. (Unbeknownst to my neighbors, I also pick up yard materials from their yardies, but that’s a different story…) Participation in this program is great, and it keeps all this material out of the land fill. The city mixes all this material together and turns it into compost which they then sell in 40 lb bags, or give away for free for personal use, if you have a truck to load it in. Paper products and kitchen waste can be recycled in our yardies, although almost no one knows that and it never seems to be highlighted.

San Francisco does a similar thing, although this Time article just mentions kitchen waste so I’m not sure about yard waste. I’m sure there are plenty of other cities that also do similar things.

My question is: why? I understand it’s cheaper and better for the world than dumping it in the landfill. But, I would think the cost of maintaining this huge operation could be dramatically lowered by setting up some local neighborhood groups who could manage the waste and then equipping them with composters that they could use. It would seem to me that after the initial cost of set up (which would probably still be way, way less than what I would expect the one large shredding machine costs) that the cost of operation would essentially go to zero. Perhaps you employ a couple of inspectors to make sure that people are doing it, but I wouldn’t expect much ongoing cost.

So why don’t we try it that way? Maybe not enough people are willing to do this work in their neighborhood groups? Or maybe it’s better financially to go through all this effort and then sell the compost? Maybe the waste management group wants to get bigger and grow for their owners? This system should be able to go on forever right? We’ll always be able to drive these trucks around picking up yard waste and processing it with huge diesel powered machines. Right?

I could see this becoming a hot button issue in the future. As our public systems continue to teeter under the stress of their obligations, and the cost of operating large machinery continues to increase, the cost to operate these programs will go up year after year. At some point, this will lead to a cost raise to the consumer and then people will start asking just how valuable a service like this is. I contend that by flipping this composting program on it’s side you can achieve the same result with less cost, less environmental burden, and even provide better service. What do you think? I think I’m going to contact my city council right now to begin discussions on alternatives.