Denver's compost program rises, bit by juicy bit, from the scrap heap

A few months back, Joel Warner reported on the shutdown of Denver's compost collection pilot program due to the budget crunch, followed by its resurrection as a fee-based program.

How's that working out? Like the compost process itself, slooowly.

Back when the city was offering free green carts to residents who signed up for the pilot program, approximately 3,200 homes signed up. But now that it costs dough to participate -- residents who want their food scraps and lawn clippings turned into compost rather than having it be sent to a landfill pay $9.75 a month -- the number is at 2,200 and gradually creeping back up.

"We're getting a pretty steady rate of new sign-ups," reports Charlotte Pitt, the recycling program manager for Denver Solid Waste Management. "A little over half [of the original pilot participants] paid for service right away. We only started inviting new participants a little over two weeks ago."

The city contracts with A1 Organics to take citizen leftovers, leaves, weeds, soiled paper plates, used Kleenex and other nasty stuff and turn it into rich organic material. But the economics of composting are quite different from that of the city's more extensive recycling program targeting metal, glass, plastics and paper.

"Unlike many recyclables, compost is not a high-end commodity," Pitt notes. "Composters make their money from the sale of compost, but also through charging front-end composting fees. We pay a fee for every ton we deliver."

The current arrangement is slated to continue through the end of the year, and Pitt expects the 2011 program will be fee-based as well. "We have proposed a small expansion," Pitt says. "The questions that remain are how fast we could grow it and whether it will remain a fee-based program indefinitely."

For more information about the program or to reserve your own green cart, check out the details at Denver Recycles.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast