Solid Waste employee Freddie Hardy

Solid Waste employee Freddie Hardy carries a composting can.

Credit: Flagpole Magazine

A recent composting pilot program was successful, Athens-Clarke County and UGA officials told county commissioners last week, and they want to continue it community-wide next year.

The ACC Solid Waste Department and UGA New Materials Institute recently partnered on testing a composting pickup program in the Normaltown, Boulevard and Cobbham neighborhoods. About 400 of 2,200 households in the area participated in the free program, which started in February and ended in early May.

“We continued to get inquiries after the registration deadline, so there’s a lot of interest out there,” ACC Waste Reduction Administrator Joe Dunlop said at a May 14 work session. “The reactions were overwhelmingly positive.”   

About a third of the materials that enter the landfill could be composted, significantly extending the life of the county landfill and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions it produces. The program collected 19 tons of compostable material — mostly food scraps and some paper products — and diverted it away from the landfill, preventing the equivalent of 17 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. Composting is basically “controlled rotting,” Dunlop said, and the resulting soil was sold to gardeners.

The main complaint was the steel cans used. They were a condition of funding by the Walmart Foundation, which is exploring sustainable materials and domestic supply chains, according to UGA assistant research scientist Evan Smith. The cans would be redesigned if the program is expanded and made permanent, he said.

The cost of pickup worked out to $29.25 per household per month. Options for funding permanent compost pickup include property taxes or landfill tipping fees. Most survey respondents said they were open to either, but more preferred the former.

The Solid Waste Department requested funding for a compost education specialist in the county’s fiscal 2025, but Mayor Kelly Girtz did not include it. Dunlop said the goal is to create a permanent program starting in July 2026. That program would likely include city pickup within the Urban Services District, and drop-off sites and private services outside the city center.

In the meantime, Solid Waste and UGA have six dropoff sites — at the Cooperative Extension (275 Cleveland Road), UGA Facilities (Bowstrom Road), the UGArden (2500 S. Milledge Ave.), Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (1005 College Ave.), the Solid Waste office (725 Hancock Way) and the ACC Landfill (5700 Lexington Road) — with plans to open one in Winterville as well. Solid Waste is also helping to promote Awesome Possum and Compostia, two small local companies that pick up composting.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Flagpole.