Yard Waste Collection and Composting

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Tompkins Weekly – October 25, 2010
by Gail Blake and Adam Michaelides

lasagnaAs of November 1, 2010 the City of Ithaca will no longer accept yard waste in plastic bags of any kind. All yard waste must be placed in trash cans with lids removed or in biodegradable paper lawn and leaf bags.

Common Council adopted the new Ordinance on September 1 in order “to save staff time and money, to reduce the health impacts on city workers, and to meet other City goals including reducing greenhouse gas emissions 20% from 2001 levels by 2016,” according to Alderperson Jennifer Dotson. Jennifer chairs the City of Ithaca Yard Waste Ad-hoc Committee, appointed by Mayor Carolyn Peterson to study ways to achieve these goals.

The former practice of collecting yard waste in plastic bags was difficult and unhealthy for workers, both from the vigorous shaking necessary to empty the bags and from breathing plastic dust, molds and other materials. “Clean” yard waste is taken to Cayuga Compost in Trumansburg while contaminated material is sent to the Seneca Meadows landfill in Seneca Falls, NY. The new regulation will both reduce the use of plastic and increase the amount of material taken to Cayuga Compost. There are environmental benefits to shorter truck trips and composting instead of landfilling. Picture the yard waste from the City of Ithaca becoming compost used to grow local food and flowers!

There are additional changes under consideration for the yard waste collection program including: charging a fee for collection, reducing how often collections occur or how many bags will be picked up at each property, and the possibility of eliminating the program entirely. The Board of Public Works or Common Council will make any further decisions.

The Yard Waste Ad-hoc Committee is also considering ways to support home and neighborhood-scale composting in the City. Keeping yard waste onsite, or near where it is generated, provides another convenient, cheap and environmentally-friendly alternative. To this end, Adam Michaelides, Program Manager of the Compost Education Program at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and several other Master Composters have been active participants in the meetings.

The Compost Education Program is funded by the Tompkins County Solid Waste Management Division and exists to support Tompkins County residents to compost as part of a multi-faceted solid waste management strategy. Tompkins County Solid Waste plans to divert 75% of waste materials from the landfill by 2015 through numerous programs, including switching to single stream recycling and increasing participation in composting.

Master Composters have experience working on a variety of scales, from home to school and multi-family housing site composting. They regularly provide free compost workshops to diverse audiences. The Ad-hoc Committee sees this budding partnership between the City and the Compost Program as a way to help residents successfully compost while achieving City goals.

Master Composter volunteers from Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension provide free "Compost with Confidence" workshops at the Ithaca Community Gardens

Master Composter volunteers from Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension provide free "Compost with Confidence" workshops at the Ithaca Community Gardens

Some residents, who have more yard waste than they can handle do not have enough space to compost. Therefore, one strategy being considered is neighborhood composting. As a result of a recent grant proposal, the Compost Education Program already has a well-thought out plan for neighborhood sites that could handle an estimated 15 tons of yard waste per site, and other compostable materials from about 30 households, in a roughly 30’ by 30’ space. These sites would be managed by the residents themselves, with educational and technical support provided by Master Composters. Some issues yet to be resolved are locating sites and funding for program coordination.

For more information about the new yard waste regulation, please contact Streets and Facilities at 272-1718 or . For composting help, or to get involved in efforts to compost in Tompkins County, contact Adam at 272-2292×124 or .

Gail Blake is a Tompkins County Master Composter from the class of 2008 and member of the City of Ithaca Yard Waste Ad-hoc Committee.

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