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Tempe Fine Tunes Compost Program
The city of Tempe is the only Valley city that makes its own compost. The organic items used to make it, are collected through a community organic bulk pick-up. For the past two years, the city has been working to fine-tune the initiative. And now the city is starting to see a return on its investments.
The Tempe Refuse Center on the corner of Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway is the city’s solid waste and recycling center for the composting program.
“This is our staging area, so this is in the early stages of the work that nature does," said John Osgood, the city’s field operations director.
Osgood walks through mounds of brush and shrubs that have been collected from around the city.
“This is the Tempe home-grown compost and this is sort of the goal that we had right from the beginning, to be able to do this ourselves," he said.
Once upon a time, these materials would have been taken to the landfill along with the garbage and the trash. But five years ago, Tempe decided to collect it separately every month and through a contractor turn the organic material into compost for city use.
“In this case, we used it at our sports complexes to bring back the turf," Osgood said. "We’ve used it in some neighborhood parks.”
Two years ago, Tempe decided to create its own compost and get city residents on board. Osgood said it was a way to save a bit of money, save some space in the landfill, but most importantly putting to good use the large amount of organic materials city residents were dumping. That required a lot of work.
“We probably test for 12 or 14 different elements and they need to be within certain parameters in order to be able to be used for turf or to be able to grow plants and so far people can use these and yes, they can take it into their backyard gardens and use it," Osgood said.
Drive a few miles from the refuse center, and we’re at ecologist Diann Peart’s urban farm in downtown Tempe.
"People don’t realize what they can do with the mulch and with the compost, 'cause everything is about the soil," Peart said.
Her sixth-of-an-acre farm adjacent to her home is filled with a variety of fruit and nut trees. She also has a large chicken coop for her half a dozen birds and a compost system. Peart is one of a handful of people the city came to for information about composting to fertilize her crops.
“We did a video for them on the composting early on, what could be done," she said. "They wanted to know what could be composted and I did everything from the concrete on up to the trees.”
Peart has been creating her own compost on this property for more than 10 years. She came to be known as a local expert on residential composting. In fact, she helped create a community garden in her neighborhood. She said the city’s efforts have come a long way since they first started. What the city needs now, she said, is support from the people who live here.
“The trick is to make it a two-way street, not a one way street," Peart said. "And most people like to throw things away. And I’m trained as an ecologist and the first question I ask people, 'And where is away? Where do you think that is? Do you think there is a space ship that leaves for mars or something?'"
Tempe is not leaving it to Martians. The city now distributes bags of compost during its twice-a-year zero-waste day, when residents drop off hazardous materials. And starting in January 2015, it will pick up green organic materials three times a year in the spring, summer and fall.