Casper’s yard waste ban could save the city big bucks

May 18, 2012

Casper has begun banning grass clippings and other yard waste from the trash that goes into their landfill. Officials expect it to save the city tens of thousands of dollars, but people who are into living green are pretty excited, too. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez reports.

(sound of mulch mower cutting grass)

REBECCA MARTINEZ: Hear that? That’s the sound of Casper saving money… Okay, it’s the sound of a mulch mower. Casper parks department employee Ryan Prior is cutting the grass in Mike Sedar Park on a sunny afternoon. The mower looks like a typical ride-on, but it doesn’t have a bag collecting clippings. The mulch mower chops the clippings into tiny particles and deposits them back into the grass, fertilizing the lawn.

(sound of a mulch mower)

MARTINEZ: That means the grass the parks department cuts doesn’t take up valuable space in Casper’s landfill. The city has to install an expensive liner in each of the landfill’s cells, and then stack trash and cover it up every day, so space is money. Yard waste makes up about 18 percent of what goes into the landfill… So on May first, Casper initiated its gradual ban on putting it in your garbage can. Cindie Langston is the city’s director of solid waste.

CINDIE LANGSTON: Yardwaste is the easiest thing for us to divert, and we get a big bang for our buck. We’ve already seen an increase. We’re getting four-to-five tons of grass out of the landfill with the yard waste that’s being diverted with the Thursday trash route tight now.

MARTINEZ: Cheyenne implemented a similar yard waste ban almost a decade ago. Both cities operate compost yards to re-use the biodegradable waste that comes in. Casper has banned yard waste from the Thursday trash route this year, and plans to have the ban in place citywide within five years. By then, the city should be able to divert more than 18,000 tons of waste per year, saving more than $62,000 annually.

LANGSTON: When this comes into your part of the neighborhood, you need to remember not to put your grass, and your flowers, and your leaves and your branches in that trash container.

MARTINEZ: Instead, you can haul all that – don’t forget to separate the branches out – to the landfill for no charge. If you don’t want to make the trip, you can arrange for the city to pick up your grass clippings and leaves in a separate container for $10 a month. The city will pick up all residents’ bundled branches once a month at no additional charge.

(sound of a bulldozer)

It all comes here, to the compost yard by the landfill. Mountains of discarded tree branches stand in view of giant heaps of woodchips of varying grain-sizes. Behind the hills of sod and manure hauled in from the fairgrounds, the city’s compost specialist Clint Sparger drives a bulldozer over some fresh asphalt where he’ll make the next few hundred yards of compost.

CLINT SPARGER: We mix it together in a windrow, use the downsized woodchips and the green grass and the leaves and add a little bit of manure in with it. And then we water all that up real good, and air it up with a turner we have. Then it heats up and cooks down and it makes a nice compost.

MARTINEZ: The city uses the compost and woodchips in its landscaping, and commercial operations can fill the bed of a pickup truck with it for about 18 dollars. Residents who haul their yard waste can request a voucher for free compost or woodchips in exchange. Cindie Langston says about half of the people who haul yard waste in take advantage of that program.

According to city surveys, about half of Casper residents support yard waste diversion. Only about one percent complained about having to pay for grass pick-up or haul it themselves.

(sound of mother and daughter weeding)

Across town, Casper resident and organic gardener Jean Proctor looks on as her daughter and granddaughter pull weeds and rocks from her backyard garden where she’ll grow melons and tomatoes this summer. She hasn’t been affected by the yard waste ban yet, but loves that it goes into compost that residents can use.

JEAN PROCTOR: I think that’s awesome. I seriously do. Because we haven’t really got a compost pile started… Most people don’t have a composter or chipper-shredder so it’s a real need for gardeners to use that service that they have. I think it’s awesome.

MARTINEZ: Solid Waste Director Cindie Langston is proud of the compost and woodchip program, but she wouldn’t mind seeing less yard waste coming in altogether. She’s really pushing mulch mowing, encouraging residents to switch up their lawnmower blade, ditch the collection bag and send the tiny grass particles back into the soil.

LANGSTON: Anytime that you can actually not generate a waste, it’s actually better for the environment. If you look at recycling, which, compost is recycling, you’re actually spending fuel to go to the landfill, and we’re spending fuel to actually compost it and labor, so there’s a lot of energy and resources used to recycle and get it back into the stream.

MARTINEZ: Langston swears mulch mowing often and properly doesn’t leave stray blades of grass all over your lawn.

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Rebecca Martinez