Special Reports

Searching for community composting

Community composting.

When we decided to begin this column on environmental living, I asked my friends on Facebook and Twitter what they’d like to read about to help make their lives more ecological. Several asked about availability of community composting, like those Brits are doing across the pond.

In Wichita, there are several place to take your composting, but your options are limited.

The City of Wichita’s Brooks Landfill takes yard waste, if you end up with a load of grass and tree limbs. Similar sites are available for you grads and sticks across Butler County in El Dorado, Augusta, Andover and Benton.

But they don’t take food waste. For that, you have to go to Park City, where you’ll find Evergreen Recycle LLC, on North 53rd Street, between Broadway and Arkansas. That’s licensed to accept untreated wood, yard waste and separated organics, such as food, manure, grain and bulk liquids, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

"I've been trying to kick those other places in the shins for years to accept food waste, but they don’t want to do it,” said Ken Powell, environmental scientist at the KDHE.

As we reported in March, more food waste goes into the landfill than anything else, including plastics and glass. That’s harmful.

But running a large composting operation is an expensive venture, Powell said, "It takes land, heavy equipment and pollution controls, such as runoff.

So it’s not free. Evergreen charges a minimum of $15 for up to 1,500 pounds. The price goes up by the ton after that. They'll also sell compost, manure and mulch back to you.

Most of Evergreen’s customers are commercial. Cheryl Miller, who runs the scale house, said Wal-Mart, Sam’s and Cargill sends items such as unused produce there for composting.

Evergreen is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. For more information, call 316-821-9991.

Other communities, meanwhile, are running small composting sites. From New York City to Northfield, Minn., they’re run through local farmer’s markets and community gardens.

Powell's department regulates public composting sites. Sites less than a half-acre require registration with the Bureau of Waste Management. Anything larger requires a permit.

Complete Landscape Systems, Inc., Singletree Stables, Suburban Landscape Management, Koch Supply Company, LLC, Tanganyika Wildlife Park, and Wichita State University each operate small sites for their own use. Powell said these would be good models for small community projects.

"It's just a break-even kind of a deal, and I already own the land," said Joan Neal of Singltree Stables. She has the expenses of tractors and trucks and other equipment, including paying employees to collect and distribute the materials, which include horse manure and uneaten hay. She offsets the costs by selling the composted products, which are used by places such as Botanica and the City of Wichita, as well as home gardeners.

"And ours is very limited, in that our content never varies," Neal said.

Cost is one reason cities haven’t started community composting programs, Powell said.

"Topeka just turned theirs over to a private company to manage," he added.

Powell said KDHE would help anyone wanting to start such a facility, but it would be quite a chore.

"Someone will need to step forward with funding, land, and labor to make a community facility successful," Powell said.

The best bet, is for individuals to use their own personal composting. I wrote about that in my first column, with links to helpful online resources.

Backyard composting is Powell’s strategy.

"I haven’t sent any food waste out of my house in 25 years," Powell said. "And I raised two teenage daughters."