By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
By unanimously approving municipal-wide composting, Los Alamos County Council is optimistic this will be a win for all – environmentally and economically.
During the Sept. 6 regular council meeting, a motion was passed to direct the County Manager to implement a food composting system in Bayo Canyon that will generate compost soil. Drop-off sites at the Eco Station and the Overlook Collection Center will be made available to residents while curbside pickup will be offered to businesses. Council further moved that the program be incorporated into the revised Environmental Services’ associated fees and the FY2024 budget development.
“Providing food waste composting services for the community is an excellent way to reduce our environmental impact and decrease greenhouse gas emissions from hauling and landfilling organic material,” Environmental Services Division Manager Angelica Gurule told the Los Alamos Daily Post. “The compost generated from this program will be a high quality food grade compost that can be safely used for food crops and will help retain water.”
During the Sept. 6 meeting, Gurule explained the Environmental Services Board recommended the compost program, which she said would divert up to 4,500 tons of organic material, which includes 3,000 tons of yard trimmings and 1,500 tons of food waste, each year from the landfill. As a result, she said there would be cost savings by avoiding hauling and landfill tipping fees. Additionally, the County could see revenue from the sale of high quality compost. Gurule said a conservative estimate is $70,000 a year or $10 a cubic yard.
Gurule added that council’s decision on this project will have other impacts on Environmental Services.
“Your decision tonight will help shape the Environmental Services rates that we plan to bring to Council for approval in the upcoming months,” she said.
Gurule said the capital investment for the food compost program will require a short term loan for $2,011,000 that will be repaid through Environmental Services gross receipt taxes. According to her presentation, the operational cost will be $581,341 annually. This includes three new full time employees for a seven-day operation. The timeline for the project, she added, is two to three years. During this time, the project will be permitted, the site updated, equipment purchased and the program rolled out.
This is the most cost-effective composting option, Gurule said. Additionally, it offers a solution to the excess yard trimming material. The program received universal support from council.
Council Chair Randall Ryti pointed out that the only other option for the yard trimmings was sending it to the landfill, which comes at a higher cost. Gurule said the cost is almost $60 a ton to transport and dispose material at the landfill.
“If we don’t have this program, we would have to reevaluate the yard trimming program because there is such an excess … we do send a small portion down to the Waste Water Treatment Plant compost operation; however, there is an excess of material that needs an end solution,” she said.
Councilor Sara Scott said she appreciated the work that went into this project.
“I very much appreciate the additional homework and business case development that was done … it really helps show us and the citizens the potential long-term economic benefits as well as the environmental benefits … I think that really helped clarify how this approach kind of has both types of impacts…,” Scott said.
Councilor David Izraelevitz said he was skeptical at first about the project but now sees the benefits.
“This is an interesting project and I look forward to see what kind of response we get from the community but I am optimistic that the business case has been made,” he said.