BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council heard an initial report this week on the possibility of starting a curbside composting program here. No action was taken by the council.
The next step, Mayor Keith Corbett said, is for the subcommittee to discuss regulations with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources and report back to the council.
“Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow,” according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency website. “Food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.”
Speaking to the council during the Tuesday meeting were Todd Langland and Bob McGrath, both members of the subcommittee that was made up of the Sustainability Council Urban Ag Committee and city staff. Also on the subcommittee were Norma Nusz Chandler, Betty Beer, Jennifer McLaughlin, Holly Tilton Byrne and Shari Thornes. Langland is director of Solid Waste for the city, and McGrath is the retired director of Solid Waste.
Corbett pointed out what they were about to hear was just a report and the council could take action later if they wanted to move forward.
Councilor Patty Bacon said the topic was very exciting to her, but she said for the city to make serious decisions, they need to hear how much it will cost to make these concepts a reality.
It’s difficult to put dollar amounts to the ideas because of a lack of regulations, said Councilor Tilton Byrne.
But the city doesn’t have to take action for people to start composting on their own with compost tumblers, Tilton Byrne added.
“The council can encourage residents to do it in backyards until we do start curbside pick-up,” she said.
Tilton Byrne said composting could have even more impact if the city would work with institutions like restaurants that serve mass quantities of food and have them start composting.
Bacon said even if the council does decide it’s cost prohibitive for the city to start a composting program, the city should offer some incentive for people to do it on their own.
“I have a tumbler in my backyard ... we compost everything,” she said, adding it costs about $100 to $150 per tumbler, depending on the style. “It’s very easy, but people have to learn how to use it.”
Councilor Mary Kidwiler asked if residents will need another bin for their compost and how it would all work.
McGrath said it depends on the food being composted: fruits and vegetables can be added to the yard waste bag; dairy and meat need another container for mechanical pick-up.
Kidwiler asked if it would be logical to have a central collection in a neighborhood so people wouldn’t have to have something in their garage.
The problem is that a neighborhood drop-off site tends to collect stuff it wasn’t meant to, and there’s a bigger problem controlling odor and rodents, McGrath said.
“Lot of drawbacks to it,” he added.
Councilor Dan Hansen asked about material recovery facilities and if one could be built here to service a larger area beyond Brookings County so the cost doesn’t all fall on Brookings residents.
There is a possibility, Langland said, adding there’s lots of interest in Sioux Falls, some interest in Mitchell and maybe in Aberdeen. The more landfills involved, the more the cost could be spread out, he added.
If the city goes forward with it, the best thing is to pick it up at the homes, Langland said.
“The key to this whole thing, the unknown, is the regulations and guidelines,” Langland said. “Are we gonna focus strictly on food wastes or go further into it?”
He said it was hard to put a dollar amount on the cost of a facility, but Rapid City probably invested $2 to $3 million and can’t get rid of the end product, which ultimately goes into the landfill.
“This kind of contradicts what we’re talking about, but I like food waste in my landfill,” Langland said, adding it helps material decompose faster; when the landfill settles, it gives the crew more space, and “generates methane gas, which someday we’re hoping to tap into.”
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]