Food scraps are now reason to celebrate for Janesville environmentalists after the city council passed a compost ordinance Monday night.

The ordinance places guidelines and regulations on an activity that city residents have been practicing for years. The council approved the measure 5-2. Paul Williams and Jens Jorgensen voted against it.

Williams and Jorgensen joined their fellow council members in saying they supported the idea of composting, but they questioned whether the ordinance should limit how many compost bins can be on a single lot.

The ordinance regulates the dimensions of individual bins, and bins must also be a certain distance away from property lines and neighboring buildings.

But the measure does not limit the number of bins a person could have.

Williams said an unlimited number of bins could create a “nightmare” combination of odor and pests. Jorgensen said he wanted to think of the worst-case scenario of somebody abusing the policy and envisioned a backyard full of composting bins.

Matt Robinson, a city environmental technician and the staff liaison to the Sustainable Janesville Committee, said properly maintained compost piles do not cause odor problems. The dimension limits would promote best practices.

Limiting the number of bins could make it inconvenient for residents who want to compost. A person might have a large lot and wish to put a bin near the house and another one deeper in the yard, he said.

Robinson also said past complaints about existing compost piles have never been chronic and have been handled smoothly.

Council member Tom Wolfe said if there have been few complaints without an ordinance, it would make no sense to expect a multitude of issues with one in place.

Robinson said if residents do have complaints about a neighbor composting, they can contact the city’s neighborhood and community services department. Code enforcement for the new compost ordinance will be handled reactively, not proactively.

Composting can help reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas generated when organic material such as food does not properly decompose. A landfill does not provide sufficient oxygen levels for food to properly break down, two Sustainable Janesville Committee members said during the ordinance’s public hearing.

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