What's new at the compost site?

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Marcia Nelesen
Sunday, April 13, 2014

JANESVILLE--Janesville residents are finally getting outside to work in their yards after a brutal winter. Those who haul their debris to the compost site will notice changes.

A fee awaits those using the demolition landfill. But residents will also find longer, more convenient hours.

John Whitcomb, the city's operations director, tells us what's new at the landfill.

First, what and where is the compost site?

The compost site is comprised of two areas and is to the west of the current landfill. The road is marked “Brush and Yard Waste” and can be reached by turning left into the second driveway on Black Bridge Road heading east.

The site opened March 31.

Residents can dump their yard waste—grass clippings, leaves, garden debris and small twigs and branches less than a couple of inches in diameter—at no charge if you live in Janesville. Nonresidents cannot use the compost facility.

The other area is called the demolition landfill, where clean fill can be dumped.

The city accepts tree branches, brush, unpainted and untreated wood such as pallets and unpainted concrete provided it comes from noncommercial or non-industrial sites. Residents dump the material in a former quarry on the site.

The city this year began charging residents to dump their waste at the demolition landfill.

The fee for residents is $5.50 per cubic yard. Nonresidents must pay $7 per cubic yard. A full-sized pickup holds about two cubic yards.

Why the fee?

The city council is trying to avoid a predicted deficit in the sanitation fund, which includes trash pickup, landfill upkeep and recycling.

What happens to the leaves, garden waste and small branches?

The city has tried different ways over the years to get rid of the leaves and other yard waste, including processing it into compost or using it as daily cover at the landfill. Crews have spread it on farmers' fields. The city has and continues to give compost away to residents. That compost is not screened.

The last few years, the city has paid companies to remove the yard waste. The companies use the material to produce high-quality compost.

Whitcomb said it is too difficult for the city to produce the high-quality compost on its own. Employees have tried to grind and screen it in the past, but the city does not have enough land.

“It takes a long time for that material to decompose, and before it's composed, we're already into the following season,” Whitcomb said. “We just don't have the capacity to manage that onsite.”

More recently, the Bruce Company in Middleton manufactured high-quality compost from the city's yard waste and used it in its landscaping.

Earlier this year, Purple Cow Organics, an offshoot of the Bruce Company, hauled away the material the city collected last year, Whitcomb said

. “There was a lot of material there,” he said. Cost to haul it away was $130,000.

Making high-quality compost is “just not our forte,” Whitcomb said. “I think it's a business best left to those folks who are in that business.”

The city will continue to make unscreened compost available for residents.

“It's been cooking there now for a couple of years,” Whitcomb said, noting he's seen some pretty creative ways that people screen the compost.

 “I use it in my garden,” Whitcomb said. “It's great stuff.”

What are the new hours at the compost site?

Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Last year, the site was open only two days into the evening and closed at 3 p.m. the remaining days.

Does it cost a lot more now to staff the site?

It costs less overall even with the extended hours because the city is hiring seasonal help. In addition, two positions at the landfill were eliminated because the landfill has fewer customers and so less waste to manage.

Will the city have its traditional curbside yard waste pick up in May?

Yes. Residents can bag yard waste and bundle their brush and put it on the curb. Pickup is May 5 through 9 on residents' regular garbage pickup day.

The cost per citywide pickup is about $15,000.

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