Composting

Montinique Monroe for KUT

All Austin businesses with a permit to sell food are now required to divert organic waste from landfills, but some restaurant owners say they didn’t get the message.

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Yesterday, we heard about a new goal set by the federal government: a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030.

One way to waste less food is to compost it – by storing organic material in a bucket, for example, until it can be used to fertilize soil. In 2012, the City of Austin and a local company each started their own composting programs.


Flickr user normanack, http://flic.kr/ps/rSAsY

The City of Austin wants to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills by encouraging residents to compost

Free composting classes are being offered online and throughout Austin. Since the program’s inception in 2010, more than 6,000 Austinites have taken a composting class.

"The City of Austin does not require residents to compost or recycle, but we do encourage people to reduce waste as much as possible," says waste diversion senior planner Sylba Everett. "The smaller the [trash] cart the less you pay on your utility bill. So by encouraging people to recycle and compost as much as possible, they could choose a smaller cart and hopefully save on their bill."

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Taking out the trash is a thing of the past: All Austin restaurants will have to start composting by 2017, and restaurants 5,000 square feet and up only have until 2016. The Austin City Council approved the ordinance change today.

Don’t worry: your favorite restaurant isn’t tearing up the parking lot and turning it into a compost heap. Restaurants will be allowed take their pick of private contractors to pick up their food scraps and haul them off for composting.

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One week after strong winds sparked fires at City of Austin compost piles, Water Utility crews have started the process of putting them out.

The fires have been smoldering since Monday, February 25, in compost piles at the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Plant, where the fertilizer known as Dillo Dirt is produced. The fires were started by wind gusts of as much 50 mph.

The Austin Water Utility says air quality is being monitored with the use of "special" monitoring devices and says the amount of smoke should diminish this week. 

Photo by cool.as.a.cucumber http://www.flickr.com/photos/smreilly/

Spontaneous combustion is real, at least when it comes to compost heaps.

Large commercial compost heaps of over 12 feet tall can become dangerous if not properly maintained, says Lauren Hammond, spokesperson for Austin's solid waste services department.

She says, the conditions have to be "just right" for a pile to self-ignite.

The record triple digit heat we've been experiencing can raise the temperature of a compost pile above 160 degrees. Mix that with the various gasses that are released from decomposition and the abundance of dry organic material, and you could have a real fire hazard on your hands.

Though most residential compost piles are no where near 12 feet tall, Hammond says, they still need to be maintained and monitored weekly.