City compost program aims for spring opening
Fairfield’s Environmental & Franchise Utilities Committee discussed a goal Wednesday afternoon at city hall to implement a city compost program in time for this year’s spring brush pickup, shortly after Easter.
Currently, the city offers free mulch to the public sourced from its semiannual brush pickup. Bisgard said the new program would expand upon the current practice, creating a site where residents could drop off leaves, branches, grass clippings and pallets throughout the year.
Committee member Michael Halley said the city has gained key information in the past month, which has helped the program take shape.
The Fairfield Economic Development Association offered land on the southeast edge of Fairfield’s industrial park in December as a site for the program.
Jan Swinton of Pathfinders Resource Conservation & Development Inc. and Fairfield sustainability coordinator Scott Timm have identified a $25,000 Iowa Department of Natural Resources grant, which could pay for start-up costs such as building a gate and posting signage on the property. And a Dec. 26 tour of Lee County’s compost program at its landfill put city administrator Kevin Flanagan in touch with a contractor who could grind the compost as well as pallets at an affordable rate.
Halley said the property offered by FEDA is especially attractive because of its proximity to the public works shed, making it easy for Bisgard and his department to oversee the site and to turn compost piles when necessary.
The committee discussed further details of the program, such as how to protect it against abuse.
John Meyer, president of French-Reneker-Associates Inc., who formerly helped manage a compost program in Waterloo, offered advice based upon his experience.
He warned if the city accepted pallets, most likely residents would begin dropping off all manner of construction waste. He also said residents often drop waste at the gate when the site was closed.
Halley said he hoped with proper public information efforts residents wouldn’t abuse the program.
Meyer also discussed the possibility of using volunteer staffing to watch the site in order to keep costs at a minimum.
The feasibility of composting food waste was a main topic of conversation at the meeting.
“I’m leery about the food part,” said Vance. “The concern for us is we don’t want it to be a nuisance for neighbors.”
The committee invited expertise from Scott Armendt of Chamness Technology Inc., a waste management company in Eddyville, which offers composting services to communities in eastern Iowa. Armendt said his company carefully tracks the temperature and moisture content of its compost piles, turning it every week for two months while it decays.
“Any time you decay something, there’s going to be a smell to go with it,” said Armendt. “But as it matures, the smell drops off dramatically.”
Timm asked Armendt how carbon content would affect the odor of the material as it composts.
“Iowa City’s is almost all carbon and it doesn’t smell at all,” said Timm.
Armendt said the higher the carbon content, the better smelling the piles would be.
Armendt also raised the issue of plastics getting into compost. Chamness said food waste from restaurants, for instance, are often littered with plastics, which ruin the compost.
“I know of several communities who do composting, and most of them don’t take food scraps,” said Armendt. “It’s a totally different thing.”
Fairfield school district auxiliary services director Fred McElwee, who expressed interest in composting waste from the cafeteria and kitchen, said plastic shouldn’t be an issue in the schools’ food scraps.
“We very seldom use plastic, most of our food comes in bulk,” he said.
Vance suggested looking at food waste down the road, once the city had successfully implemented the yard waste program.
“It could be done, but I want to take it slow,” he said, “The whole program could suffer if we rush into it.”
Halley said the committee will likely create a trial compost pile this spring.