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Decatur launching pilot program for curbside composting pickup

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Decatur launching pilot program for curbside composting pickup

Commissioner Lesa Mayer, Mayor Patti Garrett, City Manager Andrea Arnold, Commissioner Kelly Walsh, Commissioner George Dusenbury, Energy and Sustainability Manager David Nifong. Photo by Sara Amis

Decatur, GA — Decatur’s energy and sustainability manager David Nifong presented the city’s planned composting pilot program at the Decatur City Commission work session on June 20.

The program is funded by a $170,000 grant from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and will provide curbside pickup of compostable materials for 250 residents as a means to assess whether the city should expand such a program citywide.

If the results are favorable, Decatur may join a small but growing number of cities and counties that have found composting household organics to be an effective way to divert waste from landfills and reduce associated emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas. 

Nifong said that the opportunity to create the pilot program was what brought him to work for the City of Decatur as its very first energy and sustainability manager.

Nifong’s report indicated that up to 39% of pay-as-you-throw residential waste could be diverted into compost, about 1,230 tons annually. That is in addition to the approximately 2,300 tons of yard waste that the city collects annually.

Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers described the 2,300 tons of yard waste as “low-hanging fruit.”

“That to me seems to be the biggest place where we can possibly make an impact,” Powers said.

Decatur Solid Waste Superintendent Sean Woodson said that the yard waste that the city collects is already composted or turned into mulch at DeKalb County’s landfill, however, the costs to the city are the same for yard waste and household garbage. Decatur pays DeKalb County $36 per ton in tipping fees to deposit the city’s waste in the county landfill. Woodson said that the tipping fees are about to go up.

The initial program will run for a year, followed by a three-month assessment period. “It’s important to see how it works in different seasons,” Nifong said.

Part of what the pilot program will determine is the cost of a curbside composting program versus the landfill, and how to assess fees.

The 250 households for the pilot program will not be charged any fees and will be selected randomly from interested participants, although they are likely to be along a single collection route.

Pickup will include yard waste and organics, with specific materials to be determined based on the processing facilities available. Nifong said that composting dairy and meat required specialized processes out of the reach of backyard composters.

Mayor Patti Garrett asked how far the city will wind up transporting the compost to the processing facility.  Nifong that they would try to locate a facility as close to Decatur as possible, but that local composting infrastructure was lacking. Nifong said that DeKalb County has no plans to expand their existing composting facility at present, but that discussions about future possibilities are ongoing.

Nifong said that his department will send out mailers, launch a website, conduct a survey, and post a processing facility request for proposals on July 1. Pilot program participants will be notified and required orientation sessions conducted in September. Collection for the pilot will begin Oct. 1.

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