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Araba's Conservation Plan

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years ago


Hyde Park Compost Co.

Araba Nti


Objective: To reduce the size of landfills by decreasing the amount of reusable materials that ends up in landfills.  This plan will focus on how to decrease the amount of waste in the Hyde Park area specifically throught the creation of a compost stystem.  The final goal will be to decrease the size and rate of growth of Illinois landfills and to make it easier for individuals to recycle biodegradable materials.


Why Recycle Biodegradable Materials?

The term biodegradable refers to plant, animal, and mineral-based products that naturally break down into the environment without leaving a trace.  Such materials include plant-based waste, food, paper, biodegradable plastics, human waste, manure, sewage, and slaughterhouse waste.  What most of these products have in common is that they are made from living organisms and are close to the form in which they can naturally be found.  When determining what is and is not biodegradable, one must consider the rate at which materials degrade and how much of an effect they have on the environment between the time that they are deposited and the time that they break down.  For example, a banana peel may degrade in two to five days while a tin can may take between 50 and 100 years to biodegrade.  Additionally, the concentration of a material in a given location can impact the rate at which it can degrade, since there must be enough microorganisms available to break down the material.  Materials break down either aerobically or anaerobically, depending on whether or not there is oxygen available.  Because of the lack of oxygen in landfills, biodegradable materials are broken down anaerobically.  This produces harmful gases, such as methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.  Other harmful effects of landfill gases include the possibility of an explosion and the formation of volatile organic compounds, which create air pollution and contaminate the surrounding soil and water.  To prevent this, landfill liners are used to prevent the content of the landfill from leaking out.  Liners are made of either clay or an artificial lining, and are located below mechanisms that trap leachate, the liquid form of landfill contaminants.  Another common practice is the use of pumps to remove the gases that are building up. The gas collected from the pumps can then be used to generate electricity and, more importantly, the use of pumps prevents pressure from building up inside of the landfill .

While there are measures that have been taken to prevent harmful waste products in landfills from escaping, these measures do not necessarily prevent landfills from impacting the life of humans and other organisms.  Aside from the fact that these measures can and do fail, there is a limit to how many landfills can be created, especially when taking into account the increasing amounts of waste disposed by humans:





Every day, each citizen of Illinois generates approximately 7 pounds of garbage per person.  In 2003, there were a total of 50 landfills in the state of Illinois, which took in a total of 17.3 million tons of waste.  73% of the waste generated ends up in landfills, 25.3% is recycled, and 1.6% is composted [HOW MUCH COULD BE COMPOSTED?].  It is estimated that each landfill can last for about 12 years before being filled.  The 50 landfills in Illinois had approximately 204.4 million tons of space left on January 1, 2004, which is a 3.7% decline, since 2003. 



Another cause for concern is the proximity of landfills to ecologically important areas: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 5% of parks and nature preserves, 8% of wetlands and deep water habitat, and 5% of floodable land in Illinois are within a mile from a landfill.  Given that landfills in Illinois are filling up and that 63% of the material that goes into all landfills consists of organic materials, one must ask what the logic is in filling up landfills with materials that can otherwise be re-used to enrich and restore the natural environment. [2]



Because Chicago lacks any type of centralized recycling program for biodegradable products, the best way to get people thinking about composting is to start at a more local level.  A composting program in Hyde Park, as opposed to a Chicago-wide program, would decrease the cost of transporting biodegradable materials to a far away location and allow residents to enjoy the product of their efforts by having healthy soils available to them for use.  This plan calls for the creation of a community composting program in Hyde Park.  While most community composting programs do not collect food, this program will collect food, yard waste, paper products, animal waste, and any other products that can be composted


Collecting waste: The most challenging part of implementing this plan is finding an effective way to collect the biodegradable waste.  Because a large majority of the Hyde Park population resides in apartments, curb-side collection is not a viable option.  Because food scraps will be included, the waste must be collected frequently. Otherwise, the food will begin to break down, which will cause the collection bins to heat up and radiate a strong odor.  In some regions, mostly in Canada, “green bin” recycling programs have been created, where residents dispose of their biodegradable waste in green bins that are picked up by their local recycling service. [WERE YOU ABLE TO GET BUDGETS FROM THE GREEN BIN PROGRAMS?] Although Chicago does not have a separate recycling service and the biodegradable materials will not be transported out of the Hyde Park region, there are many aspects of the green bin program that can be borrowed.  The community composting program will make small, cooler-sized composting bins for kitchen use available to Hyde Park residents.  These smaller bins will be used to collect biodegradable materials that will be later placed in compost collecting bins outside.  The bins will have a biodegradable lining so that the contents of the bin can be easily removed [SUCH AS COMPOSTABLE PLASTIC BAGS?], and the lid will seal tightly to prevent the smell from leaving the bin.  Other methods of collection the program will experiment with include the use of garbage chutes in apartments, and in complexes with garbage disposals, a collection system that connects to the garbage disposal. However, in order to utilize garbage disposals, it would be necessary to figure out how the extra water would affect the balance of materials that goes into the compost.  The importance of this balance will be discussed below.  In single-family homes, one larger bin will be set up outside for each household.  In apartment complexes, there will be one larger bin for each apartment, similar to the dumpsters placed outside of apartments.   Restaurants and groceries will have a big impact on the composting system, due to the amount of food waste that they generate and the feasibility of moving this waste from the restaurant to a bin outside each day.  During the early stages, not everyone will feel comfortable collecting their food waste, but most likely, the program will jumpstart due to residents’ willingness to dispose of yard waste and animal waste in the collection bins. 


Location:  At the moment there are no empty lots in Hyde Park, which makes it difficult to create a site that can easily be accessible to Hyde Park residents who are interested in volunteering or in using the compost created.  Looking at a satellite image of empty lots reveals that the best place to set up the site will be in on the outskirts of Hyde Park:


Somewhere on 63rd street





Lake Park and 47th



The Lake Park and 47th street site is the most ideal site because it is away from residential homes.  Furthermore, the closeness of the empty lots in the area makes it easier to expand the size of the composting site if the program grows.  At the site will be a storage area for larger biodegradable waste products, such as wood that needs to be broken down.  The actual area where the materials will be composted will take up a majority of the site.  The book, The Mucking-In pack by Sandra Bywater and Pauline recommends the following equipment for a composting site:

  • Hand tools:spades, garden forks, pitch fork, loppers, rakes, shovels, manure/stable fork, secateurs, yard broom, wheelbarrows
  • Machinery:Shredder, trailer, tractor, sieve/screen, collection vehicle
  • Safety equipment:goggles, hard hats, protective boots, ear protectors, tough gloves



    Kitchen Bin: $12.95-$14.95

    Lining for Kitchen Bin: $4.50/box

    Green Bin: approximately $20

    Lining for Green Bin: $15.95/box

    Pitch Fork: $32.50

    Wood Chipper: $800  

    Fencing: $13.89/foot

    Lopper: $34.99

    Rake: $28.99

    Shovel: $22.49

    Yard Broom: $18.99

    Wheelbarrows: $42.99

    Hard Hat: $9.99

    Safety Goggles: $5.49

    Ear Protection:$16.99



    Collection Truck: $15,900


Getting the Compost Mixture Right:

In order for the mixture of biodegradable materials at the site to break down effectively, it must contain a correct ratio of carbon and nitrogen. The nitrogen in the mixture will come mostly from food waste and the carbon will come mostly from cardboard and wood-based products, such as woodchips.  The ratio of carbon to nitrogen should be about 30 to 1, which should not be difficult given the amount of space woody products take up in comparison to products such as food remains.  Layering the carbon and nitrogen components is the most efficient way to break down the biodegradable material. [WHAT ABOUT "SEEDING" THE DECOMPOSERS BACTERIA, FUNGI, NEMATODES, ROUNDWORMS?]  A little bit of water might be necessary if the nitrogen content is too low.  There will be regularly scheduled tunings of the compost in order to mix its contents, which will allow it to break down faster.  It will be necessary to experiment with the temperature in order to find the most efficient temperature for breaking down materials. ONCE IT GETS GOING IT WILL GENERATE HEAT, AND PERHAPS METHANE.



The composting program will sell the compost produced from the collection of biodegradable waste.  This will not be enough money to keep the program afloat unless everyone involved in the program is a volunteer.  A program based entirely on volunteers will most likely lack consistency, so it will be necessary to have a steady source of funding.  One possible source of funding is local restaurants and businesses who want to advertise themselves as green. The City of Chicago is another possible source of funding for the same reason, and because local composting will decrease the amount of money spent on transporting and sorting biodegradable waste.  Other costs of operation include the cost of the land, the cost of training workers, a compost licensing fee, safety equipment to protect the workers, the cost of collecting vans, transportation fees, and the cost of machines to break down items, such as large pieces of wood.  Another way to help cover these costs is to team up with local schools by requiring students to do community service as part of their graduation requirements. If the program relies on a paid labor force, it would be a good way to create jobs for those in the surrounding area.  Furthermore, the program could serve as a skills-training program for disadvantaged people, which would be another incentive for the city to support it.



One of the difficulties of creating an effective composting program is getting people to participate. City-wide green bin programs have encouraged community participation by decreasing garbage collection to every other week, which should, in theory create an incentive for people to make use of the green bins.  In Toronto, each household is eligible for one subsidy for the removal of certain goods, such as heavy items and home improvement materials.  However, no green bin programs are active in apartment complexes in these areas.  Limiting the frequency of garbage collection will probably not decrease the amount of garbage thrown out in apartments, since most people will not feel like it is there personal responsibility to decrease the amount of waste that they throw away.  Also, because there is little space available for gardening, it will be had to involve those who are not interested in the finished product.  However, for the few who do garden, advertisements for the composting program will emphasize the cheapness of fertilizer from community compost systems.  Fertilizer from compost sites can be as cheap as $10-$40/ton while manufactured fertilizer can cost up to $200/ton.  Not to mention the number of harmful chemicals that goes into the ground due to inorganic chemicals.  Another method of promoting the program is to emphasize the amount of tax dollars that will be saved by composting.  I used the average cost of garbage collection to estimate the amount of money being spent on waste in California, according to this chart:


California Waste Stream Composition (1995): Organics

Source: http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/Markets/StatusRpts/compost.htm

Waste Stream Component

Percent of Waste Stream

Generation (millions of tons)

Disposal (millions of tons)

Cost (based on average of $50/ton)


























Textiles and Leather





Miscellaneous Organic





Disposable Diapers





Other Paper





Sewage Sludge











Although data for Illinois was not available and the chart is a bit old, the amount of money being spent on waste disposal that could be composted is probably just as high. In order to get a better sense of the personal cost of throwing away biodegradable materials, it is necessary to divide this number by the Californian popuation.  According to the U.S. Cenus, there were 31,589,000 people in California. However, since only adults pay taxes, the number of adults in California during this year must be calculated.  Because a break down of the California population is only available for 2003, estimates of the adult population for that year can be used to make inferences about the 1995 population:  In 2003, 26.1 million of California's 35.5 million person population were adults, meaning that 74% of its population were adults. If the demographics of California were similar in 1995, then there were 23,375,860 adults in California that year.   This means that the cost of  throwing away materials that could have been recycled was $36 per person.  This is not very much money, but it is money that could have been spent on more productive services. For example, if each Hyde Park resident were to spend $36 on something that would improve the community, that would be $1,077,120 each year going towards a good cause! (based on the estimated Hyde Park population of 29,920 from the Wikipedia entry).


Essentially, the program will need to find a way to make removing biodegradable waste from the waste stream more appealing than throwing it in the garbage.  A huge problem, as Chicago’s blue bag recycling program has shown, is fining a way to keep the personal cost of recycling biodegradable materials low.  The purchase of a large compost bin to be kept outside of a residence is a must.  Also, the bins must be lined, since exposure to biodegrading waste can be a health hazard to collectors.  Making participants buy their own bags can discourage participation, since it involves spending money and making trips to stores to buy bags.  In 2001, only 33% of eligible residents were participating in the blue bag recycling program [1] Stores that sell blue bags must be licensed, which is why blue bags are not sold at the Hyde Park Coop, CVS, or Walgreens.  However, despite the fact participants will have to go out of their way to purchase biodegradable lining bags, the composting program will have a huge advantage over the blue bag program in that residents will have a better sense of where their waste is going.  A big concern that has, most likely, decreased participation in the city of Chicago’s recycling program is the sense that the money used to purchase bags will be a waste, because the chances of the bags remaining intact will not make a difference. The purpose of the blue bag program is to save money by using the same trucks for both garbage and recycle pick-up. However, when people see that there garbage and recycle is going to the same place, they get the sense that the program is not effective.  Therefore, having a visibly separate biodegradable waste collection system should boost resident’s faith in the composting plan.  An additional way in which the program will encourage composting is by increasing the cost of garbage collection.  When increasing the cost of garbage collection, there is  always the fear that people will  find alterantive ways to dispose of garbage, such as by burying or incenirating it.   Although this is a possibility, there is evidence that increases in garbage collection fees results in an increase in recycling.  In her article  "The Cost of Commercial Recycling,"  Barbara  Stevens found that those who generated larger amounts of garbage were more likely to recycle in order to cut costs. Based on surveys she distributed as part of her research (conducted in San Jose, California; Montgomery County, Maryland; Babylon, New York; Portland, Oregon and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Stevens concluded that "All garbage customers report they would be extremely willing to recycle if their overall solid waste fee decreased.  In April 2007, the mayor of Toronto proposed a plan that would increase the cost of garbge collection and cut property taxes.  The idea behind the program is that those who are interested in benefitting from the decrease in property tax will recycle more so that the amount of money they save from the property tax cut will be less than the amount that they are saving.  Once again, implementing a program such as this for an area with apartments will be difficult, since apartment dwellers do not pay property taxes. This composting program in Oklohoma is what the Hyde Park program should aim for.  In one year, the community saved $100,000 composting, which was very close to the cost of getting the program started. 


Despite the challenges of creating a community composting site, it will have many environmental, economic, and social benefits. The community composting program may take a few years to be embraced by the community.  But even if the program does not generate enough revenue to sustain itself, the community will reap benefits that are not easily caluculated in dollars. Plus the state of Illinois will save space in its landfills and from the decrease in trucks necessary to pick up garaba.  The program can serve as a springboard for composting programs in other parts of the city.  The creation of a network of composting sites will revolutionize the urban composting process by allowing each site to learn from the others, as each site works to create an optimal composting system.

[2] http://www.epa.state.il.us/land/landfill-capacity/2003/index.html


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