Join the Movement! Reduce Waste, Save Money, & Teach Others

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Tompkins Weekly – January 31, 2011. By Liz Falk.

In an effort by the City of Ithaca to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from 2001 levels by 2016, the City is no longer accepting yard waste in plastic bags of any kind. If you are a homeowner, you are likely well aware of this new policy. All yard waste must be placed in trashcans with lids removed or in biodegradable paper lawn and leaf bags. The regulations were adjusted to save staff time and money and to reduce health impacts on city workers. “Clean” yard waste is taken to Cayuga Compost in Trumansburg while contaminated material is sent to the Seneca Meadows landfill in Seneca Falls, NY.

Composting yard material rather than sending it to the landfill is a significant step to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is estimated that 30-40% less waste would be sent to the landfill if both yard waste and food waste were composted. As such, the Tompkins County Solid Waste Management Division (TCSWMD) plans to implement numerous programs in the coming years including accepting compostable food waste at their Route 13 drop-off location. TCSWMD would send collected food scraps to Cayuga Compost. If utilized, programs such as these can divert 75% of waste materials from the landfill.

Without Cayuga Compost, such large scale composting would not be possible. The company sells composted material to farmers, gardeners, and landscapers as a rich soil amendment. However, yard waste, food scraps, and recyclable paper can also all be composted at home, in a backyard compost bin.

Composting at home allows for fewer trucks hauling compostable materials the 24 miles round-trip to Cayuga Compost and eliminates transporting the finished product, thus reducing gas emissions. Significant money can be saved in trash tags by composting food scraps and paper and furthermore, compostable materials break down and turn into excellent garden amendment. Used in a garden, compost adds nutrients and beneficial organisms to the soil, builds up soil structure and helps retain moisture in the soil. Growing food is rewarding and ensures the gardener access to fresh and healthy foods. Imagine – all of these benefits of composting and at little to no cost to you!

Composting at home is a relatively easy skill anybody at almost any age can learn and most people find quite enjoyable. There are compost bins to fit everybody’s space and aesthetic requirements and though it’s a common misconception, composting in your yard does not attract rodents and flies if done properly.

To learn how to compost properly, consider becoming a Master Composter. The ten-week training not only teaches all about how to compost, compost science, and how to use compost, but the training also includes how to teach fellow community members about composting. Since the program’s inception in 1991, 287 Master Composters have been trained in Tompkins County. Like a home garden, each year’s class is unique. Master Composters come from all walks of life – some young, some retired, some born right here in-county, while others hail from Mexico or Turkey. While some trainees have no previous composting experience, others have been composting at home for years. Yet all trainees have a strong desire to learn and to teach others. Trained Master Composters provide free compost workshops to diverse audiences, play a critical role in reducing waste generated at our County’s most prominent festivals, and help friends, neighbors, and coworkers reduce waste and build soil fertility. Additionally, 2011 brings some exciting new components to the Master Composter program including in-the-field compost training intensives and possibly the establishment of neighborhood compost sites.

The 2011 Master Composter training application deadline is February 4th. Training classes will be held Thursdays, February 17 to May 5 from 6:30 to 8:30pm (no class on March 24) at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, 615 Willow Avenue. For a full program description and an application visit: or call a Master Composter on the “Rotline” at 272-2292.

We hope you will make 2011 the year that you get involved in community composting. Make a positive contribution to Tompkins County, and our planet, by becoming a Master Composter!

For more information contact Liz at or 272-2292×268.

Liz is the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Compost and Gardens Programs at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

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