HYATTSVILLE— The city of Hyattsville will start a city-wide compost collection program in early 2020 and while the initiative’s environmental impact will be significant, it will also lower the city’s cost of dumping non-compostable garbage.
The city pays what is called a “tipping fee” for when trucks dump the collected refuse (the term comes from the tipping motion that the truck makes when it dumps everything out).
The garbage trucks are weighed when they enter the landfill or compost facility. When they exit, they are weighed again and are billed for that difference in weight.
Tipping fees for compost are $25 per ton, whereas tipping fees for trash are $59 a ton. Residents reported that if they don’t purchase a lot of prepackaged food, plus compost their food scraps, they have virtually no trash. Most of the participating households will usually have trash for pick up every two weeks rather than once a week. So, if all the compostable materials currently going in the trash are composted, the overall tipping fee will decrease by roughly half of the current total cost.
But even with all of this money being saved, the city will no longer be able to provide the materials needed to compost for the city-wide program.
In the initiative’s pilot program, the city provided a countertop bin with biodegradable bags and a curbside bin to the participating households. For households that choose to participate in the city-wide curbside compost collection program, they’ll have to procure these materials themselves.
The city-wide program will also exclude apartment residents, who will have to contract out with private compost collection companies.
Justen Garrity, founder and president of the Maryland based compost business Veteran Compost, says the exclusivity of the program is an opportunity to grow the company’s “office, commercial, and high-density residential customers.”
“It’s inevitable that municipalities will have to address organics collection and composting for residents at some point all across the country,” says Garrity, wishing the “best of luck to the Hyattsville compost program.”
Hyattsville’s compost program has been in the works for a while now. The city piloted a version of the program in 2015 which, in its initial stages, allowed only 40 households to sign up to receive the compost collection service on top of their weekly trash and recycling pick up.
The city then expanded the number of households receiving the service to 100. Residents were put on a waiting list and eventually, due to high levels of interest, the city increased the number of households to 200. But despite roughly six or seven thousand households in Hyattsville, that cap has been in place ever since.
When Danny Schaible moved to Hyattsville in July of 2016, he heard about the compost program and joined the waiting list. Months went by, with Schaible checking in periodically, but there were no changes to the list.
“One of the questions I had was, why weren’t they commingling the yard waste along with the compost?” said Schaible. “They’ll come by; they’ll suck up your leaves. On Monday mornings they’ll take anything you bag up. If they’re providing that across the board, why couldn’t they provide compost pick up across the board, too, and have these things mixed together?”
Community services manager, Colleen Aistis, said it’s been a slow development because it’s a learning process. With each addition of households to the program, new variables get introduced, each of which need to be addressed.
One variable is the limitation of their current pickup method. The program currently utilizes one truck with a crew of workers who pick up the entirety of the participants’ composting. While it’s important to see that these projects get off the ground, Aistis says the city has to ensure that the program is sustainable.
Schaible believes he has the answer for how to make the composting program sustainable.
“I conducted a bit of research as a candidate while I was running for office because I wanted to know why it had kind of stalled out,” said Schaible, who joined the council in May of 2019.
What Schaible found was a simple case of miscommunication.
Hyattsville’s compost is sent to the Prince George’s County Organics Composting Facility just off of Route 301. It opened in the late 1990s to process yard waste and in 2013 began to accept food scraps.
When Hyattsville first started exploring composting options for the city, the Composting Facility did not allow for the mixing of yard waste and other compostable materials. For this reason, the pilot for the composting program was a stand-alone endeavor from the preexisting trash, recycling and yard waste services.
But because yard waste and food are both compostable materials, Schaible called the Composting Facility to ask why they could not be mixed. The Composting Facility told him yard waste and other compostable materials could definitely be mixed.
“People just had the wrong idea [and] I may have never looked into it had I not been newly questioning the system that was in place,” said Schaible.
Once you are able to mix the compostable materials, Schaible said it becomes a much easier proposition because you are already providing the yard waste pick up. “The crews, the trucks, the workforce– everybody no longer has to do a whole separate route.”
“Everyone is accustomed to that being provided at the city level and I think this is just an extension of that and makes just as much sense to collect like everything else the city currently collects,” said Schaible.
According to Aistis, there is no official start date set but there will be a communication campaign before the program begins to inform residents of the new service and how to utilize it.
“It’s new. It’s changing behavior,” said Aistis.“It can be done, it just takes a little bit of time.”