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Where’s my compost bin?

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Posted on: March 12, 2020

By Sydney Clark 

A city councilmember wants the City of Hyattsville to purchase more compost containers to accommodate the expanded number of participants in the city’s program. He also is promoting a feasibility study for a project that could reduce waste by half.


Councilmember Danny Schaible (Ward 2), the lead sponsor of the request for more compost containers, said at the March 2 council meeting that there are issues with the five-gallon buckets that the city provided during the compost pilot program. Similar problems plague bins that residents have bought on their own. 


“It doesn’t have wheels, it can get kind of heavy, if a hard wind comes around, [the bucket] is round, and it can disappear on you,” said Schaible.


Hyattsville Environment Committee (HEC) Secretary Jim Groves said at the committee’s Feb. 11 meeting that composting bins also go missing from properties.


“As we’ve seen on the HOPE [Hyattsville Organization for a Positive Environment] community listserve, there’s a bucket bandit out there,” said Groves. “It seems silly because it might be a $3 or $5 bucket from Home Depot, but it ticks people off, and some people bought some expensive buckets.”


Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) hasn’t received many reports of missing buckets, though. While HCPD couldn’t provide how many reports had been received, Public Information Officer and Acting Lt. Zachary Nemser said in a recent phone call that individuals caught taking compost bins would receive a citation and could be charged with theft. 


“I think part of the problem is [that the buckets] look like something that people might be putting out on the curb to give away, rather than to have their compost picked up,” said Schaible. 


Nemser suggested that residents clearly label and mark their compost containers. He also said it might be helpful to purchase an inexpensive GPS tracker to attach to personal bins. 


Schaible said that residents expect the city to provide the containers, given that the program is a municipal service. He noted that the city provides trash and recycling bins. 


“For compost, maybe because it’s new, we’re counting on people to provide their own container, and my proposal would be for the city to provide those containers,” said Schaible.


Schaible said that an ideal container is in the 10-20 gallon range and has clear lettering indicating that it is the property of the city. He added that containers should have a secure lid to prevent animal access, be sufficiently sturdy for heavy loads and have wheels for ease of use. 


Schaible said he does not have a target cost estimate for the additional bins. He said, however, that the city should determine how many households are currently participating in the program in order to have a better idea of how many additional bins to provide. 


“We want to make our purchase in alignment with our anticipated residential users,” said Schaible. 


The pilot composting program, which launched in 2015, had roughly 150 to 200 participants as of December 2019, according to City Arborist Dawn Taft. She said since the program’s expansion on Jan. 6, she does not think the city has a total count of participants.


Hal W. Metzler, Jr., project manager with Hyattsville’s Department of Public Works said, “Once the county went into mixing compost with the yard waste, it’s been harder to get an accurate number of people that are actually composting.”


Metzler said the cost estimate for the city to provide composting bins during the first year would be $20,000, with additional money going into a replacement fund for damaged and aged bins.


Carrianna Suiter, vice president of the city council, said, “I think it makes a lot of sense to put some additional funding behind a program that we’re excited about expanding.”


Currently, the citywide composting program is limited to single-family homes and excludes multi-family properties and businesses, according to the city’s website


As part of the city’s efforts to evaluate trash collection services for single-family and multi-family properties, Schaible introduced a proposal at the Feb. 11 HEC meeting to examine  a trash-related approach that could be incorporated in the city’s existing study. 


Known as the Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) project, this approach would have Hyattsville residents transition from the current flat rate system for trash collection to one that meters the amount of trash each household generates. Essentially, residents would pay according to the amount of trash they generate. Under this system, recycling and composting collection would be free.


Schaible said a number of municipalities across the country have adopted the PAYT system and that the approach can dramatically reduce the amount of trash that residents put curbside. 


“We’re talking over 50% reduction citywide in the amount of trash that is being generated,” said Schaible. “It really changes residents’ behaviors, and this could give us something that we could look to adopt if there’s the will on the council.”


HEC Co-chair Richard Canino said that for now, the group will table the specifics of the study until a budget proposal is voted on. Schaible said the city council will likely conclude discussing budget priorities for fiscal year 2021 around the end of April.



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