City compost piles up

The city sold less than it expected, while raw material is coming in faster than compost can be sold.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:34 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

When landfill operator Corey Rice is done grinding and rotating the heaps of brown and black soil that surround him, he’ll have tons of compost that’s perfect for gardening. The challenge is finding customers to buy it.

Since the Solid Waste Division began selling compost to the public last fall, it has generated only $2,600 in revenue, less than expected for the nutrient-rich soil, landfill superintendent Cynthia Mitchell said.

Since 2002, the city had been selling its compost in bulk to businesses looking for landscaping material. But when the incoming yard waste and other compostable materials became overwhelming, the landfill purchased a compost screener to produce a finer, more marketable soil for homes and gardens. Mitchell said that by opening sales to individuals, the composting facility has attracted more customers.

“So far, we have mostly sold to individuals who are looking for a soil additive to their gardens or flower beds,” Mitchell said. Although compost sales have not been as high as they could be, Mitchell hopes better promotion and free samples will entice more people to buy compost.

The compost is sold by the cubic yard, which amounts to about 1,000 pounds. That amount normally sells for $12 plus tax, but it’s $8 plus tax for those who order more than 100 cubic yards in a calendar month, Mitchell said.

The compost is made from yard waste such as leaves and grass collected at curbside by city refuse crews and from untreated lumber, clean drywall, ash from food manufacturers and cellulose casings from sausages. The amount of waste collected continues to exceed by far the amount the city sells, so the compost is piling up.

Mitchell said the landfill has sold 265 cubic yards of compost, or more than 120 tons, since October. By comparison, it has collected or received more than 2,700 tons of yard waste so far this year. Mitchell noted, however, that the end product always weighs less than the amount of waste the facility receives.

“Our compost facility is 15 acres,” said Richard Wieman, manager of the solid waste utility. “We have got a large stockpile of it.”

Landfill and recovery supervisor Nick Paul noted that even though the compost is piling up, the facility is a service to the community because it keeps tons of yard waste out of the landfill.

Rice is the sole operator in charge of grinding raw yard waste and other materials into mulch, putting it into long windrows and aerating it periodically. He says it’s a relatively easy process.

“Without composting, these 200-foot links of cellulose casings would just go in the landfill,” he said as he held the shreddings.

Rice said it takes about six months for ground-up waste to become compost. Although there are ways to speed production, there is already so much compost on hand that Wieman said the facility is in no hurry to make more.

“Mother Nature has been doing it for years,” he said. “If you do nothing to organic matter, it will decompose on its own. We’ve never been short of compost.”

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