Has this been decided? Is it coming soon?
The City Council hasn’t finalized it yet, but Boise’s composting program appears to be inevitable.
People at City Hall, mailed literature and online resources all use language indicating the program is no longer a proposal but a done deal.
“Curbside compost collection is coming this summer,” according to the city of Boise’s website for trash, recycling and, now, composting services.
A flier mailed out to Boise homes recently used a similar verb tense.
“Beginning this summer, Boise residents will begin to keep compostable materials out of the landfill,” the flier read.
The city and its trash contractor, Republic Services, have been been planning this program for about a year now. The Statesman and others have published several reports on it. Still, questions remain about how exactly the program will work.
Is the program mandatory?
Essentially, yes. Like trash and recycling services, Boise residents who meet the composting program’s criteria will pay for it whether they want the service or not. The only question is how much. People who choose not to participate will actually pay more than those who do participate.
Even residents who get a composting waiver will have to pay the same amount as people who participate in the program.
Who has to pay?
Residents of any home inside Boise city limits that now use Republic Services’ plastic carts for garbage and recycling. Mostly, that’s single-family homes, but it includes duplexes and small apartment buildings with as many as seven units. The city expects this to affect about 73,500 homes.
Businesses would not be part of the program, at least for now.
How much more will we have to pay?
There are lots of variations on pricing based on participation in the various services, as well as size and number of carts. The city expects most households to participate in the program. This would increase those households’ bills by $3.40 per month — or $6.80 per bi-monthly utility bill. See the chart below for a complete breakdown of pricing options.
Why is Boise doing this?
Two words: money and environment.
The city’s been considering a composting program for years. In 2014, a study found that almost 46 percent of waste collected from single-family homes in Boise is organic material, mostly food scraps and yard debris.
Dumping all that stuff costs money. The city paid almost $2.5 million in fiscal year 2016 to dump garbage at the Ada County Landfill. Even if the composting program is only partially successful, it could save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and space in the landfill, which will eventually fill up.
Also, composting is more environmentally conscious than letting garbage rot in a landfill. When garbage rots, it produces methane, a smelly gas that traps heat near the earth’s surface much more aggressively than carbon dioxide, a byproduct of proper composting.
How does the program work?
Participants will receive 95-, 65- or 48-gallon carts for composting. They dump organic materials, such as food scraps and grass clippings, into those carts. Republic Services, which collects garbage and recyclable materials, will collect the organic materials every week and take them to Boise’s Twenty-Mile South Farm.
At the farm, workers will place the materials in rows maybe six feet high. A giant machine called a windrow turner will churn the rows periodically, allowing proper composting to take place. Workers will test the materials regularly to make sure the process is working, city spokesman Colin Hickman said.
What, exactly, can I put in the composting bin?
Mainly, food scraps and yard debris. Here’s the full list from the city’s website: leaves and branches, grass clippings, fruits and vegetables, yard and garden cleanup, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, eggshells, pine cones and needles.
No meat or dairy. Also, no poop of any kind.
Republic might place a graphic on the composting carts’ lids to remind people of what’s allowed and what isn’t.
Can I use the compost?
Yes, if you’re a Boise resident. After about 100 days, composted materials should be mature usable as an additive to yards and gardens. At that point, the city will package some percentage — maybe half — of the final product to sell to businesses that deal in garden and farm products.
The rest would be for city residents and use on ground owned by the city government. Hickman said Boise is looking at dispensing the compost for free from three or four sites scattered around the city so that people don’t have to drive out to the Twenty-Mile South Farm to pick it up.
How clean is the compost? Can I put it on my vegetable garden?
Stay tuned. The goal is that the compost will be clean enough to put on food gardens. But the city doesn’t want to make that claim yet without having a finished product to test, Hickman said.
Potential contaminants that could raise health concerns include herbicides that don’t decompose in the composting process.
When do rates go up?
Probably this summer. First, the City Council has to give final approval for the composting program and rate increase. That’s expected to happen in April.
The rate increase would take effect after composting service starts.
When does the service start?
The city hopes it will start in early June.
Do any other cities have composting programs?
Thousands of community recycling programs were in place across the United States as of 2014, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, though a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology found only 183 curbside composting programs in the country in 2013.
In designing Boise’s system, experts examined programs in Corvallis, Ore.; Bellingham, Wash.; Denver, Des Moines, Iowa; and San Jose, Calif., Hickman said in an email.
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