By Sophia Bennett on March 09, 2012

SLC's mandatory composting program has lifted the city's waste-diversion rate to new heights.

SLC Green recyclingThe largest category of waste generated by U.S. households is paper. The second largest isn’t cans or bottles or e-waste. It’s another organic material: yard trimmings and food scraps.

Grass clippings, leaves, fruit peels and the like make up about 27% of the solid waste stream, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They take up a serious chunk of landfill space and create other environmental problems, namely methane gas, a greenhouse gas that is up to 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Organics that are composted, on the other hand, bring a wealth of benefits. Compost replenishes soil, helps trap carbon and retains water and nutrients for plants.

Salt Lake City is one of many communities across the country that is correctly treating organics as a valuable resource rather than waste. Since 2008, residents have had the option of receiving large brown yard waste bins to place at the curb on trash collection day. The city accepts leaves, branches, grass, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and tea bags. During two weeks in January, it adds Christmas trees to the list of compostable items.

Prohibited from the bins are dairy, bones, meat scraps, paper products, construction debris, food and beverage containers marked as compostable, pet waste and dirt (which can make the containers so heavy that they break).

Items are picked up once a week and transported to the Salt Lake Valley Landfill, where they’re ground and put in windrows. After six to eight weeks, the result is a dark, crumbly garden supplement. Local residents can buy compost in allotments of approximately 3 yards for $30. The program became mandatory in 2010, and has helped the community increase its overall diversion rate from 19% to 35%.

“We had really great voluntary participation even before we made the program mandatory,” says Debbie Lyons, Recycling Program Manager with Salt Lake City’s Division of Sustainability and Environment. “About 20 to 25% of households were already participating.

“We’re diverting more than we originally expected,” she continues. “The numbers are showing that the program is a great success.”

Five-year projections show that the yard waste collection program will spike the city’s diversion numbers to 42% if the program makes no changes. However, Lyons says the city is already in talks with the composting facility to expand the type of material it can accept. She’d like to see the city take all kinds of food waste, not just vegetative material.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and the City Council have set an ambitious goal of diverting 50% of waste from the local landfill by the end of 2015. The yard waste program alone should help get pretty close to that target.

About the author

Sophia Bennett is a freelance writer based in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in more than a dozen magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is a dedicated home recycler, an avid thrift store shopper and a huge compost nerd.

Sophia's other professional experience include six years with the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County, an internationally recognized leader in the field of nonprofit waste-based business development, and a year as an economic development and recycling coordinator in the U.K. She's volunteered with the Oregon State University Extension Service Compost Specialist program and Willamette Farm and Food Coalition. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, reading, crafts, gardening and spending time with her husband and twin daughters.


Learn more about Sophia Bennett

Comments

There are no comments for this post yet


Articles by Sophia Bennett

How to Recycle Tennis Balls

By Sophia Bennett on August 26, 2014

Tennis players have the option to collect old tennis balls for mail-in recycling programs or take advantage of a bevy of reuse options.

How to Recycle Golf Balls

By Sophia Bennett on August 18, 2014

The best way to recycle a functional golf ball is to find an organization that will reuse or refurbish it.

How to Recycle Milk Cartons

By Sophia Bennett on August 11, 2014

Whether paper based, plastic or glass, the package your milk comes in is recyclable.

Local Focus Articles

Recycling Profile: Champaign, IL

By 1-800-RECYCLING on August 29, 2014

This college town is known for more than academics. Its curbside recycling program is open to all residents.

Recycling Profile: Bowling Green, KY

By 1-800-RECYCLING on August 22, 2014

Touted for its quality of living, Bowling Green recycles curbside on a weekly basis.

Recycling Profile: Erie, PA

By 1-800-RECYCLING on August 15, 2014

Despite instilling single-stream curbside recycling, Erie still uses plastic bags to collect its curbside recyclables.

Current News

Recycling Profile: Champaign, IL

By 1-800-RECYCLING on August 29, 2014

This college town is known for more than academics. Its curbside recycling program is open to all residents.

Recycling Profile: Bowling Green, KY

By 1-800-RECYCLING on August 22, 2014

Touted for its quality of living, Bowling Green recycles curbside on a weekly basis.

Recycling Profile: Erie, PA

By 1-800-RECYCLING on August 15, 2014

Despite instilling single-stream curbside recycling, Erie still uses plastic bags to collect its curbside recyclables.

Loading