Boise & Garden City

66 tons a day, Boise? Turns out you’re good at composting

Boise’s composting program is working well despite a few “hiccups” that irritated customers, say officials for the city and its contractor, Republic Services.

In a little more than a month, Republic has picked up 1,716 tons of compost from Boise’s single-family houses, city spokesman Colin Hickman said. The city expected to compost an average of 45 tons of material per day in the program’s early days, he said. Instead, it has collected an average of 66 tons per day.

Consequently, trash volumes have decreased. Republic has switched two truck routes from trash pickup to compost pickup, Hickman said — a shift that was always expected, but not as soon.

And Boiseans are producing quality, not just quantity, said Dave Fisher, Republic’s general manager.

“It’s very, very clean. I’m very, very surprised, actually, at how clean it is,” Fisher said.

The compost has been mostly free of contaminants like garbage bags and drink bottles that people aren’t supposed to put in their composting carts, Fisher said. He expected the city and Republic would have to spend more time educating Boiseans about keeping those other materials out of the carts to ensure a top-quality finished product.

Customers don’t always take so quickly to new municipal composting programs. Across a 30-year career in sanitation, Fisher said, he’s occasionally discussed composting programs with colleagues in other cities. They’ve told him that teaching customers what can — and, more importantly, can’t — go into the compost bin often takes some time.

There’s a similar challenge with no-sort recycling. About 10 percent of items that pass through Western Recycling’s sorting facility in Boise can’t actually be recycled, managers told the Statesman last year.

“It really is a community project. And to be successful, everybody needs to kind of do the right thing,” Fisher said of composting. “It seems like people in Boise, they pay attention. They feel ownership in it, and they get involved.”

Most of the city’s composting material has gone to Twenty Mile South Farm, where workers arrange it in rows and periodically turn it to encourage the composting process. The city believes the program will reduce the cost of dumping trash at the landfill; delay the date at which a new, very expensive landfill is needed; and cut emissions of methane, an aggressive greenhouse gas.

‘A LOT OF CHANGE’

Ever since the Idaho Statesman first reported Boise’s composting plans, people complained this was yet another big-government program that would accomplish little more than separating people from their money. Especially vocal were Boiseans who already compost their own organic materials and saw no benefit whatsoever.

Nevertheless, the city moved the program forward. Service started in early June. Over the past six weeks, the city has delivered composting carts to some 74,000 homes across the city.

More than half of those households also took the chance to change the number and size of trash and recycling carts at their homes, Chertudi said. Adjusting that mix has been a huge task in itself. Weeks after the program started, people all over Boise were still complaining the city wasn’t picking up the trash carts they were getting rid of, or that they hadn’t received the correct new carts.

“It’s been more of a challenge than we anticipated,” Chertudi said. “It’s a new program — new drivers, new routes. So everybody’s getting used to a lot of change.”

Now that almost all of the compost carts have been delivered, Republic has shifted its focus to picking up straggler carts, Hickman said.

Some frustration with the program continues. Several Facebook readers who commented on a recent Idaho Statesman story objected to what they felt was Boise’s heavy-handed approach in mandating the program.

One of the most common complaints was the space the composting cart takes up. Other commenters encouraged their neighbors to be more open-minded.

“This whole thing really pissed me off. Everything about it,” Kimberly Schroeder said in one comment. “I hate to say it but I’ve been doing it now for two weeks...and it’s pretty handy. I hated the heated seats, automatic back hatch opener and push button four-wheel drive on my car too! Just go with it, sometimes it can teach you a lesson.”

RED TAPE

For eight days in early June, as the composting program went into effect, Republic hauled composting materials its drivers picked up at Boise households to the Clay Peak Landfill east of Payette.

That’s a 67-mile drive north of Twenty Mile South Farm, where Boise had always said it would put compostable materials. The longer drive cost Boise an additional few thousand dollars, Hickman said.

Why spend the extra money and time to drive all the way to Payette County? Because the city was waiting on permits from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and Central District Health Department to operate a composting facility at Twenty Mile, city officials said.

Clay Peak had those permits. After spending a year telling the public a composting program would reduce the amount of trash Boiseans dumped in the Ada County Landfill, the city wanted to follow through on its promise, said Haley Falconer, Boise Public Works environmental division manager.

“That was really important to us — to make sure that that material that we were collecting was getting composted,” Falconer said. “So that’s where that decision came from.”

Boise’s composting permits have since come through, and Republic has been depositing compostable materials at Twenty Mile for several weeks.

More composting information

Have a trash, recycling or composting cart that needs to be picked up? Or do you have questions about Boise’s composting program? Call Republic Services at (208) 345-1266 for more information.

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