Public works staffers will propose a composting program Tuesday that would put carts for food waste and yard debris at homes across the city by next March.
A lot has to be done, and soon, to meet that timeline. First, the City Council has to give city staff the go-ahead to make the proposal a reality. Next, a firm plan has to be worked out to the satisfaction of agencies like the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
If those two things happen, the city would spend a good chunk of this summer reaching out to the public to fill them in on the details, such as how the composting program would work, why it’s important and how much it would cost.
This process would help ensure the program’s success, if it indeed does take shape, city spokesman Mike Journee said.
“Because of the success of the recycling program and what we know about Boiseans, we think this is something that they would be drawn to,” Journee said. “If we don’t do something like this at the local level, it doesn’t get done.”
The city would also have to renew its franchise agreement with Republic Services, which handles Boise’s trash and recycling system.
The new agreement with Republic would include a per-home monthly charge of $3.40 for about 80 percent of customers. Other households would pay more for additional carts. The additional charge would start showing up on residential utility bills starting in October.
That would bring most customers’ total monthly bill for collection of garbage, recycling and compostable organic material to $17.77.
That’s a little bit more than residents pay in Meridian and Nampa, but those cities don’t offer composting services.
The city started talking with Republic in 2014 about what it would take to launch a composting program, said Steve Burgos, Boise’s environmental manager.
That year, a study found that 30 percent of all waste to hit the Ada County landfill is organic material, mostly food scraps and yard debris, such as grass clippings. Furthermore, organics made up more than 40 percent of waste collected from single-family homes across the county, and almost 46 percent of collections at houses inside Boise city limits.
The opportunity was clear to people inside Boise’s Public Works Department, Burgos said. If they could pull the organics out of the waste being dumped at the landfill, they could reduce the total amount of waste being dumped there and the fees the city pays to use the landfill. Composting those materials would turn something that’s harmful to the environment — methane from rotting garbage is an aggressive greenhouse gas — into a useful additive for gardens and crops.
The first big challenge was cost, estimated at $9.5 million to get started, plus $2.1 million per year to operate and maintain a composting program. Another hurdle was where to put composting materials.
The landfill seemed like an obvious location for a composting operation, but a few people balked at the idea, partly because they worried it would create a strong, offensive smell.
Burgos said that’s not the case with well-run programs.
“There’s been some bad examples out there,” he said. “It really comes back to how you operate the facility. If you have a good operator, you tend to not see odors.”
So instead of the landfill, composting would take place at the Twenty-Mile South Farm, a city-owned, 4,225-acre facility southeast of the corner of Cloverdale and Poen roads, where Boise applies biosolids from its sewer plant to crop-growing fields.
HOW IT WOULD WORK
Each home would receive a 95-gallon compost cart that’s similar to the gray garbage carts, except with a green lid.
Residents would put them out every week, probably on the same day trucks pick up garbage carts. Trucks would take the organics to a composting area measuring about 8-10 acres. The material would be placed in rows and periodically churned with a windrow turner, a machine designed specifically for composting organic material, whether it’s manure or household garbage.
Composting would last about 100 days. After that, it would be packaged. The city would sell maybe half of the final product to garden- or farm-products dealers and use the rest as an additive for its own operations.
“Keep in mind those are targets. How it actually works out remains to be seen,” Public Works Director Neal Oldemeyer said.
Boise composting proposal, by the numbers
$3.40 — additional monthly charge per home
$17.77 — total monthly charge per home for garbage, recycling, composting
390 — average pounds of organic waste each person in a Boise single-family home produces per year
73,000 — number of carts for compostable organic materials that would be distributed to Boise homes
15 — number of trucks Republic Services would add to its Boise fleet
$9.5 million — Republic Services expected startup cost for program
$2.1 million — Republic Services expected yearly operation and maintenance costs
Sources: City of Boise, Ada County Waste Stream Analysis