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    County to test-run curbside compost collection

    The yellow bulldozer’s wheels churn in the thick mud, its arm clawing through the dark brown, almost black mound of decaying materials. As the bucket lifts a pile of it into the air and drops it back down, a plume of steam rushes out into the crisp autumn air. The steam brings with it a pungent odor, like a mixture of cow manure and old trash. But this is neither cow manure nor old trash. This is compost.

    The mountain of compost belongs to Cayuga Compost, a local business that commercially processes and sells compost. Next month, the family-owned business will play a key role in Tompkins County’s food scrap recycling pilot program.

    Beginning November 15, the county will institute a curbside compost collection pilot program, in which 400 West Hill households will be given the opportunity to put their food scraps out and have them picked up. Casella Waste Systems will be responsible for collection while Cayuga Compost will process the compost.

    Tompkins County Solid Waste Division spokesperson Geoff Dunn said the Division planned the 25-month pilot program in a continued effort to reduce waste.

    “We want to be producing less waste,” he said. “Whether that be recycling products or turning them into compost, it’s sort of a no brainer.”

    The county has a goal of diverting 75 percent of waste away from the landfill by 2016. Currently, 60 percent of waste is diverted from the landfill, and Dunn believes this food scrap collection program will bring the county 10 to 12 percent closer to its goal.

    Dunn believes Tompkins County is ahead of the rest of the state in composting practices, but behind when compared to other parts of the country. More than 90 U.S. cities offer curbside composting, according to Governing Magazine, with San Francisco leading the way. The California city began curbside composting in 1996 and now collects more than 600 tons a day. This, in addition to other recycling practices, has helped San Francisco redirect 80 percent of its waste away from landfills, according to the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

    Such waste reduction is far away in Tompkins County, but the Solid Waste Division hopes county residents realize that besides the environmental impact, composting also has economic benefits, recycling specialist Kat McCarthy said.

    “By taking the smelly, heavy stuff out of your trash and into compost it means that you can go longer between putting your trash at the curb, which means you’re saving money on those trash tags,” she said. “It means that you’re saving money, you’re not sending trash to the landfill, you’re keeping it local and you’re continuing the nutrient cycle.”

    Compost is created when tiny organisms break down organic trash, typically food scraps, leaving behind nutrient-rich compost. Many materials and much of what ends up in the landfill can be composted, Cornell Cooperative Extension compost educator Adam Michaelides said.

    “Technically speaking you can compost anything that was alive and turn it back into compost to feed new living things,” he said. “There are a number of things you can compost that ordinary people have and a lot of what people currently put in the trash you don’t have to.”

    Personal composting is already a common practice among Tompkins County residents. In 2012, Michaelides and the Cornell Cooperative Extension surveyed 360 people at area grocery stores and found that 57 percent of them compost at home.

    The curbside compost collection program aims to enhance this already strong trend by allowing a wider range of compostable products. Household compost cannot include certain food scraps – such as meat, bones, and dairy – because they take too long to decompose. But Cayuga Compost has the ability to handle these products, so residents will be able to compost more materials.

    The Solid Waste Division will hold two community gatherings in the next month to explain the pilot program as well as provide all of the necessary resources for participating households. Dunn hopes that with the county’s help, residents will understand and embrace composting.

    “We’re giving you all the tools that you need to make this a successful program,” he said. “Everybody who is in the curbside pilot is getting everything they need. We want to make this as clean, comfortable and convenient for folks to get them to do it.”

    If all goes as expected with the pilot program, the Solid Waste Division plans to have curbside food scrap collection countywide within three years.

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