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Could composting become mandatory in Durango?

City Council considers what a municipal food waste program might look like, and how to implement it
The city of Durango is considering ways to provide a municipal composting service to residents. To make it work, the city may need to require fees that would be part of trash collections. Nothing is final, and City Council is only in discussions. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The city of Durango is interested in providing municipal composting services to residents, and one way to do so is mandating composting similarly to how recycling was looped into trash collection as a basic service over the last decade.

But challenges with city code, establishing a reasonable fee structure, not burdening residents with new fees and subsidizing services were obstacles highlighted at a city meeting earlier this month.

Composting is a valuable process that returns organic waste to the earth, rejuvenating soil and reducing the amount of methane that builds up in landfills, Marty Pool, the city’s sustainability manager, said at a City Council study session in early May. A regional waste study in 2015 found about 20-25% of the city’s waste stream is made up of food waste.

He said since then, the city has made progress in redirecting organic waste from landfills in a public-private partnership with Table to Farm, which offers organic waste collection and composting services to residents and commercial businesses in an opt-in service model. But the city can dream bigger.

Pool said reducing greenhouse gas emissions by diverting organic waste from landfills supports the city’s sustainability goals, but to effectively expand efforts, a mandatory municipal composting program may be needed.

A market study conducted by the city and Table to Farm Compost, which asked residents to complete surveys in exchange for three months of composting service, found that the cost of service is the main barrier to residents. Table to Farm charges $28 a month to pick up and process customers’ food and wood waste. But survey results showed residents would be more receptive to fees of about $15 a month.

Pool said the feedback wasn’t surprising. The city’s recycling service had a similar reception about a decade ago, which prompted the city to eventually mandate residential recycling services before expanding to more comprehensive services in the commercial sector.

“What does it take to get to citywide composting and organics diversion?” he said.

There are many routes forward, he said. But before going down any of them, the city needs to update its municipal or land-use codes to set service fees, and explore budget allocations for possible program subsidies.

He said Chapter 10, the section of municipal code concerning waste management, trash and recycling services, does not include or define organic waste management. As such, City Council doesn’t currently have legal power to set service fees for composting.

Councilor Olivier Bosmans said revising the code shouldn’t be a difficult endeavor for the city attorney. But the burden of an extra fee to low-income families, small families and individuals is concerning.

Taylor Hanson, managing member of Table to Farm, said the composting service currently collects about 1,600 tons, or 3,200 cubic yards, of organic waste per month.

Monique DiGiorgio, also a managing partner at Table to Farm, said the 5-acre composting facility has a maximum processing capacity of 18,000 cubic yards at any given time.

Councilor Gilda Yazzie said she composts at home and doesn’t produce more than a coffee can worth of organic waste and requiring residents to pay $13 to $28 a month for such little waste collection doesn’t seem cost-effective.

DiGiorgio said the business encourages people to compost on their own. And other communities have implemented different levels of service for residents who compost at different rates.

“Table to Farm Compost is here to provide one service that is a weekly pick up and drop-off service,” she said. “But when other communities have gone citywide, you look at a whole multitude of possibilities, including drop-off, including people composting at their homes. So we would hope all of those options would be available.”

Councilor Jessika Buell said she is also cognizant of Durango’s high cost of living and adding even $12 to someone’s bill by mandate makes her pause.

The city needs an appropriate funding source to subsidize Table to Farm and reduce fees to residents, Pool said. The state-mandated 10 cent single-use bag fee that went into effect at grocery stores and major retailers Jan. 1 could be a funding source, but the city still doesn’t know how much revenues to expect from those fees this year and in years to follow.

A portion of the lodgers tax fund reserved for discretionary funding at City Council’s direction is another potential source of funding for subsidies, he said.

Councilors supported looking closer at options for city code revisions and budget allocations.


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