Athens residents hoping to live a zero-waste lifestyle may have one more opportunity to aid the transition. A proposed city pilot program, if implemented, would provide some city residents the opportunity to have a bucket full of their compostable waste collected along with their trash and recycling every week.
The Rural Action Zero Waste Program has been working with the city of Athens for the past year to develop the proposed program, which came about because of an excess in the city’s trash and recycling fund, explained Andrea Reany, Zero Waste program manager. She gave a presentation on the proposal to Athens City Council Monday evening.
The goal for the proposed six-month pilot is to have 200 to 300 families participating, with ideally 50 to 75 families in each of four residential areas throughout the city, Reany said.
For the six month pilot, Athens-Hocking Recycling Centers (AHRC) would be the service provider, as it is currently for the city’s trash and recycling services, according to Reany. “It’ll just be wrapped into the city’s current contract that’s going to be revised in June of this year,” she said.
Logistics for the pilot would be simple: residents bring their compost containers to the curb, “just like trash and recycling on the same day as their trash and recycling to make it easy to remember that this service exists,” Reany said. Similar to trash and recycling containers, residents will be responsible for cleaning out containers – five-gallon buckets which include lids and handles – and there is also potential for the city to purchase a limited number of 13-gallon rolling bins to use in the pilot, but those would be more expensive than the five-gallon buckets, Reany said.
Containers would be labeled with a list of appropriate and inappropriate materials for composting, as well as a place for the resident’s address. Items such as fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, small amounts of meat and dairy, and grass clippings are all compostable materials. Compostable trash liners and service ware are among the unacceptable items, due to the processing system at the AHRC compost facility, Reany said.
“If a resident really doesn’t want to be responsible for cleaning out the container, they could put in a paper bag and that could just be dumped out of the container,” she said.
In order to successfully educate residents and participants in the program, the city would need to invest in educational resources, Reany said. She suggested the use of postcards, promotional coupon packets, “oops tags” for buckets with unacceptable materials, and thank-you cards for successfully composting residents as a few means the Zero Waste Program might use to educate the community.
“It’s important that that happens at the beginning of the program to give people an idea of what they’re getting into but also education will need to continue throughout the duration of the pilot program,” Reany explained. “This constant communication with participating residents will allow the city and the service provider to quickly address any issues that… residents are having.”
She suggested a Facebook group for participating families, where “residents can share ideas and tips on how to compost more effectively in their home,” with a group administrator who “could help answer questions.” Reany also suggested an e-newsletter that would allow residents to submit feedback directly to program administrators via email.
FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT familiar with the composting process, when the service provider collects organic material from a residence, that material is taken to the Athens Hocking Organics facility in The Plains where food waste is processed and turned into a “really rich soil amendment,” Reany said. This material has been in “really high demand from local farmers” in recent years, she added.
“Food-waste diversion is kind of one of these new horizons that a lot of cities are exploring to reach zero-waste goals and strive for that philosophy,” Reany said.
Recruitment for the pilot would begin in May and continue through July of this year, with hopes to start the pilot in August and continue through next January, Reany said. Following the pilot would be a survey of the participants to see what went well and what changes they may recommend, in preparation for launching a full-fledged project.
“During that time, we could work out the pilot participants still receiving the compost service that they had before,” Reany said.
Ideally, a full-fledged city-wide version of the program would be ready to implement by next March, Reany said. The potential overall cost to the city for the full-fledged service, as estimated by AHRC, could be around $300,000 to $500,000 a year, “depending on what the program looks like,” Reany said, not including the potential cost of educational services in a full program.
Zero Waste Program Director Erin Sykes said that “part of the point of the pilot program” is to evaluate cost factors, “so costs right now for a full-fledged program are best guesses both looking at other programs across the nation,” plus current costs to Rural Action and AHRC.
After the pilot, “things could change and look very different once the full program is implemented,” Reany said.
Athens Service-Safety Director Paula Horan Moseley told City Council Monday that the estimated cost for the pilot program, as presented to the city by AHRC, is $46,000. “That’s underneath the threshold for the bid,” she said.
The costs for the pilot, for services provided by both AHRC and the Zero Waste Program, “would be covered from the surplus” in the city’s trash and recycling fund, Horan Moseley added. However, she noted that “this would have to be bid out for any future full-fledged program because it would greatly exceed the $50,000” limit, or else any modification of the current contract would have to be negotiated to meet that threshold.
THE ORGANICS COLLECTION SERVICE is something that Athens-Hocking Organics, the composting branch of AHRC, offers already, and the center does have a small amount of customers who participate in such a program – a very small amount, Reany said – and more who participate in an exchange program where residents drop off full buckets at the Athens Farmers Market in exchange for clean ones.
According to Reany, there’s only one other city in the state with a city-wide compost/organics collection program. “So, if Athens were to roll this out, assuming no one beats us to it, we would be the second one in the state to have a program like this,” she said.
After hearing Reany’s presentation, City Council member Pete Kotses declared, “This is exciting,” and Council member Jeff Risner also expressed interest, adding that “the fee for this should be rather minimal” to the city.
Council member Patrick McGee mentioned that “as someone who composts on a regular basis and my neighbor composts on a regular basis,” he believes encouraging “neighborhood composting,” as opposed to participation in a program that ships waste elsewhere, “is a very good route to go.”
Horan-Moseley proposed the option of an opt-out type of program, “because some people like going right out back and they have a nice little flower garden and what have you,” she said. “Should they have to be forced to pay for a service that they’re already providing on their own?”
Following the pilot, Reany said, it would be important to understand how many residents would prefer to opt out of the program. “In order to make the program cost-effective, we don’t want a ton of people opting out so that the service isn’t as efficient,” she said.
Sykes noted that “composting also just has a little bit of a yuck factor with it for some people so… there is a barrier to some people who will never reach the point that they’re willing to do it in their own backyard for whatever reason.” A curbside program could help the city strive for zero-waste goals, Sykes said, and “get that much larger participation from your community.”
Participation in the pilot program would be free for those who sign up for it, Reany said, while participation in the full-fledged program would have a to-be-determined fee associated with it, much like current trash and recycling collection services.