WCA starts small with compost pickup service; would like to grow bigger

Organizers hope a new program will generate as much compost as interest to reduce the amount of waste Wrangell ships out each month.

The Wrangell Cooperative Association's IGAP department launched a compost pilot pickup program last month and has already reached its capacity of 20 participating households.

Each week, IGAP staff picks up either a 3 ½-gallon 5-gallon bucket from participating homes as far out as 3 Mile.

Kim Wickman, IGAP technician, got the idea for the program from Juneau Composts, which offers curbside pickup and drop-off options for residents in Juneau. That program has been able to keep more than 1.2 million pounds of compost out of the city's landfill.

A report written by IGAP in 2021 estimated that 40% of Wrangell's household and business waste is compostable. Wickman said a household of four people generates about two pounds of compostable waste each week, but some could generate more.

"I'm a compulsive composter," said Brenda Schwartz-Yeager, who runs two businesses out of her home on Case Avenue. She's also one of the pilot pickup program's participants. She estimates her household produces between 15 and 20 pounds of compostable waste each week. "This (program) makes it simple and easy to have my compost go somewhere constructive."

The WCA IGAP department has run a cold-compost bin at the community garden at 1.5 Mile since 2013. In 2021, IGAP received a $10,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase a commercial-size composting unit, which they bought last month. The EcoRich ER-20 machine operates inside of a building adjacent to the community garden.

The machine can take up to 20 pounds of green waste and churn that into two pounds of compost in 24 hours, said Valerie Massie, IGAP coordinator. The purpose of the pickup program is to "increase the amount of material composted by the unit, increase education and outreach among the Wrangell public, gather data about household compostable materials, gather data about what variables (moisture, materials, volume) make the best compost, and try out a permanent pickup service."

But the materials that can go into the ER-20 are limited, Wickman said.

"You can do fats, breads, pasta, rice, all the things you're not supposed to compost, you can compost in this machine. Egg shells are good, and shrimp shells," she said, adding that instructions for what can and cannot be added included are posted on the sides of the buckets participants are given. While the cold-compost bin can take things like cardboard, shredded paper and other carbons, the ER-20 cannot. And materials that have come in contact with human or animal waste such as diapers or cat litter, cannot be included in the compost bucket.

It's still very much a work in progress as IGAP staff figure out what works best.

"We're anticipating a lot of kinks to work out, so maybe 20 (participants) a week won't generate enough weekly compost to make it," Massie said. "Maybe we'll need to get a lot more because people won't generate as much food waste as they think they will or they'll generate more. That's part of what we'll have to figure out."

The program will be evaluated in April to see if it will become a permanent part of IGAP operations. Massie said that not every resident of Wrangell has the time or desire to compost, so they're trying to make things easier for those who want to.

And while the ER-20 is churning and burning, Wickman and Massie said they would like to get the community even more engaged in the process by helping them come up with a better name for the program since "composting pilot pickup program" is a bit boring, and so is "ER-20." Those who would like to help name the program and the big, orange machine can send their ideas to Massie at igapcoord.wca@gmail.com.

Those who would like to be added to the program's waitlist can email Wickman at igaptech.wca@gmail.com.

"It's really exciting for Wrangell, given how much of our waste we're paying to send out is things people could be composting that would be going back in and enriching the earth," Schwartz-Yeager said. "I hope everybody gets in on it. These guys are making it so much easier. I'm so stoked about it. Compost is like gold if you're a gardener."


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