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Composting

The city of Austin is looking for more ways to reduce the amount of solid waste that it puts in landfills.

Aiming to cut down the waste that Austinites send to landfills, the City of Austin is sponsoring free composting classes through the summer.

With roughly half the garbage sent to landfills made up of the banana peels, eggshells, apple cores and other organic materials that are prime for compost, a do-it-at-home soil fertilizer, city officials are trying to redirect the waste.

The classes are part of the city’s composting rebate program, which challenges Austinites to complete a free composting class, downsize to a green, 30-gallon trash cart and purchase a home composting system. Austin residents who do these three things are eligible for a rebate of 75 percent, up to $75, off the cost of their new home composting system.

In 2009, the City Council established a zero-waste plan. to reduce the amount trash going to landfills by 90 percent by 2040.

“We want to entice people to give composting a try, since it’s such an important component of reaching zero waste,” Solid Waste Services director Bob Gedert said. “Composting at home can drastically reduce the amount of trash your household produces, making the switch to the 30-gallon trash cart easy.”

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Since the composting rebate program began in April 2010, 917 people have taken the City of Austin composting classes, and the city has issued 461 rebates, totaling $32,599.82, according to Gena McKinley, a planner with the city’s Solid Waste Services Department.

The city spent $16,047.14 last year on the program, including tent, table and chair rentals, instructor fees, and the printing and distribution of promotional material. It has spent $11,252.69 this year.

We have a composting system, and it’s really amazing how much less trash we throw out with it. More often than not, we’re putting out maybe one bag a week from the kitchen can. Plus, by not having all that rotting food in a container that gets opened frequently, the kitchen smells better. The downside is that we need to carry the stuff outside to the compost bin in the back yard, which can be an un-fun experience when the weather is nasty. We also tend to generate more compost than we can use, so we periodically have to stop adding to the pile and go back to using the trash can again. That’s where we are now, and I’m ready to go back. Having some way to deal with the excess of compost – some way for the city to collect it, perhaps – would be a big help.

Far as I can tell, the city of Houston doesn’t have a program like this as yet. The city is requiring compostable bags for yard waste, and one can certainly put kitchen scraps in them, but that’s an expensive way of doing it for those who don’t regularly generate yard waste. Beyond that, the city’s Solid Waste department has this Q&A about composting, and the Green Houston webpage will point you here for more info. Given that Houston keeps piling up the awards for being green, I hope we’ll copy this idea much as we’ve copied bike sharing.

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One Comment

  1. !!Dean says:

    I’ve composted for two summers. I put kitchen scraps in a compostable sunchips bag and close it with a chip-clip to keep the smell down. So it just looks like a bag of chips near my sink. The bag helps mold grow faster, too. I just put the bag under the most recent pile of grass clippings. I’ve reduced what goes down my garbage disposal by 90% and my household trash by 20%.

    My bins were very easy to make and very affordable. I just used a light-duty fencing from a bigbox hardware store. These bins are a bit flimsy when I turn or empty the pile, but they’ve held for 2 years. Here’s a photo: http://transitiontexas.ning.com/photo/compost-and-banana-trees

    The downside of composting is that the pile releases greenhouse gases. But I think composting is better than buying fertilizer with respect to the gases generated through the creation and transportation of the fertilizer.

    I’ve used the compost output to build up my raised-bed gardens which have been generating copious produce.

    Last thought: I don’t believe the city should pay a dime toward “compost system” rebates, especially if they are made of plastic. Just show people how to make cheap, low-material ones like mine. They work just fine.

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