Boise & Garden City

Boise won’t act as ‘trash police’ when compost program starts, maybe in spring

Dig In video series: Wake up and smell the compost

Master Composter Dave Hopkins and Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith give a Composting 101 lesson in this week's Dig In gardening video, the fifth episode in the series.
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Master Composter Dave Hopkins and Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith give a Composting 101 lesson in this week's Dig In gardening video, the fifth episode in the series.

Boise City Council members talked Tuesday like they want to allow people who already compost their food scraps and yard waste to opt out of the city’s proposed composting program without paying a penalty.

But those people would pay the same amount as the people who use the composting service. That’s partly because fees need to cover the composting program’s cost for Republic Services, which Boise hires to collect trash and other discarded materials, city spokesman Mike Journee said.

Mike Journee, spokesman for Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, explains the reasons for developing a compost program in the community and how it could work.

“I don’t think that people who are composting now are doing it for the finances of it,” Journee said. “They feel like it’s the right thing to do for the environment and for their own particular needs. And we don’t think that they’re going to be opposed to the idea that they’re part of a larger system.”

City staffers unveiled a preliminary plan for a composting program in May, irritating a few residents who do their own composting and think it would be unfair if they had to pay more money for a program that encourages the rest of the city to be more responsible.

“Once again in life, all of us people who are doing the right thing are going to get punished,” Victor Dougherty, a longtime composter who lives on South Hilton Street, said in May. “I’m sick of it.”

There are many, many services in the city that our residents pay to contribute toward that they may or may not use on a regular basis. Libraries are a great example of that. But few would argue the benefit to the community of having a library.

City of Boise spokesman Mike Journee

A few City Council members in May said they’d prefer a waiver that would allow composters to opt out of the program without paying a non-participation penalty. At a planning session Tuesday, staffers presented a waiver proposal and asked whether the council preferred to charge home composters the same amount as people who participate in the new program or the same as they pay now.

Council members appeared to prefer the former option.

Victor Dougherty has been composting at his Boise home since the 1970s, and he's not happy that he might have to pay more money so that city residents will participate in a Boise-wide program.


Boise hopes to iron out the composting program’s details by the end of this year and start collecting compostable materials in June.

The idea is that each home would receive a cart similar to the gray and blue carts Republic uses now. Residents would put food scraps, grass clippings and other organic materials in the cart, and then leave the cart at the curb every week on the same day trucks pick up garbage carts.

Trucks would take the organics to a composting area. 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.

The material would become compost in about 100 days. After that, it would be packaged as a soil additive. The city would sell some of the final product to garden- or farm-products dealers, give some away to residents and use the rest on its parks and other grounds.

The program would apply only to single family homes, not apartment or condo buildings. According to a 2014 study of Ada County’s waste stream, 46 percent of waste collected from single-family homes inside Boise city limits is organic waste, which is largely compostable.

Eliminating even some of that waste would reduce city costs for dumping garbage at the county landfill.

There’s a true cost of garbage, and if we don’t take steps to limit what’s in the landfill, we’ll all be paying more in the long term.

Boise Councilwoman Lauren McLean

If the program becomes a reality and a waiver is available to home composters, the city probably wouldn’t send inspectors to certify people’s home composting systems.

“We don’t want to be trash police,” Journee said. “We’re not going to be snooping in people’s garbage or anything like that.”

Instead, Republic’s collection crews could report to the city if they found that the amount of garbage people with waivers were throwing away was more than they should if they were really composting.

If, for some reason, people don’t want to participate in the composting program and don’t get a home-composting waiver, they would pay $5 more per month — or, the way the city calculates it, they wouldn’t qualify for a $5 participation rebate.

This rebate model is similar to the one that applies to the recycling system. It is a major factor in Boise’s 97 percent recycling participation rate.


The composting proposal includes a small price reduction for participating households that use smaller trash carts because, presumably, they throw away less stuff.

City Councilwoman Lauren McLean said this is a step in the right direction, but she wants to see a bigger price difference in the future.

“We should be looking at further incentivizing people to throw away less,” McLean said. “If there’s further incentive to be thoughtful about the waste that one’s producing, I think that we would see over time less waste being put into the landfill, which saves each of us money in the long term.”

She wants city staff to analyze ways to encourage less waste without giving residents an incentive to dump their garbage illegally in fields or commercial dumpsters.

“That’s the balancing act,” McLean said. “I really look to staff and the experts to help us figure out what that tipping point is that encourages the most reduction of waste and the most benefit for each household without creating unforeseen consequences.”

Proposed trash, recycling, composting fee schedule

Similar to its recycling program, the city of Boise proposes a $5-per-month rebate to encourage residents to participate in a new composting program. City staffers believe this will convince 80 percent of single-family households to participate.

Proposed prices for people who do and don’t participate in the recycling and composting programs:

Trash only (no recycling or composting rebates): $28.64

Trash and recycling (no composting rebate): $23.64

Trash, recycling and composting (both rebates apply): $18.64

Trash, recycling and composting, with extra trash cart: $23.64

Trash, recycling and composting, with extra composting cart: $19.24

Trash, recycling and composting, with small (48- or 65-gallon, instead of 95-gallon) trash cart: $17.64

Source: city of Boise