University Park spreads compost program, first in Prince George’s -- Gazette.Net



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University Park resident Linda Dylla said her trash can is a lot less heavy since she began participating in the town’s new composting program.

“I only take that can to the road once a week, and that’s mainly because I don’t want any meat packaging to go rancid in the can. We don’t even need a second pickup anymore,” Dylla said of regular trash pickup.

Dylla and her husband are one of 150 households now participating in University Park’s compost collection program, which is run at no cost to participants and no net cost to the town, according to Public Works Director Michael Beall.

The program originally began in October 2011 as a 15-month, 50-family pilot program under the Small Town Energy Program, a University Park program funded through the U.S. Department of Energy. STEP provided a $15,000 grant to pay the initial start-up costs and the outside vendor who hauled away the food waste, Beall said.

In January, the town took over operation of the program, and the town’s Public Works Department now takes the waste material to the U.S. Department of Agriculture research center in Beltsville, where it is used in composting research, Beall said.

“Once we had proven the concept, collected the data and worked out the bugs in the delivery system, we opened the recruitment to anyone in town on a voluntary basis. The budget allowed for a cap of 150, and of the original 50 pilot houses, 49 rolled over into the new program. It only took us a couple weeks to fill all the remaining slots,” said STEP Program Director Chuck Wilson. Town residents continue to get a twice-weekly trash pickup, and those participating in the program also get a Tuesday compost pickup.

Beall said there are no plans yet to increase the number of participating households.

University Park has slightly less than 900 households, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

To meet the parameters of the research being done at the Beltsville USDA site, only certain foods can be composted — no meat, poultry, fish or dairy products, and no grease, oil or paper products, Beall said.

While the USDA research center doesn’t pay anything to the town for its compost, the program is currently cost-neutral, with program expenses being offset by savings from reduced amounts of trash going to the landfill, according to Beall.

“How incredible is that? That we are able to do something like this, and have it not be a cost to the town,” said Dylla.

Nationally, Americans dump 33 million tons of food waste into incinerators and landfills every year, according to information from the Environmental Protection Agency.

This program is a first for Prince George’s County. Recently, Takoma Park recently initiated a pilot composting program, and Howard County began a program in 2011.

An avid supporter of recycling, Dylla said it didn’t take long to get in the habit of separating her trash.

Dylla deposits acceptable food waste — such as fruit and vegetable scraps, bread, pasta, grains and coffee grounds — “everything of the earth,” as she describes it, into a green, biodegradable bag made from plant materials. When the bag’s full, it goes into a plastic barrel with a screw-top lid kept outside and moved to the curb once a week.

“There’s no odor, no mess,” Dylla said.

janfenson-comeau@gazette.net