Okay, I'm going out on a limb in saying any town could do this – just because my own town of Takoma Park, MD does it. But jeez, picking up residents' leaves and turning them into mulch for the
community seems like SUCH a nobrainer – both environmentally AND economically.
Me, I have plenty of room to compost my own leaves and don't put them out by the curb like most people do, but I STILL have 24/7 access to wonderful leafmold mulch, and it's free to anyone. Yes, even if you don't live here. Just pick it up any time from this pile on the grounds of our public works department.
Then in the spring – in fact, later this week – the city will dump seven cubic yards of it in my driveway, where it'll sweeten the air (or make it stink depending on your own personal taste for the odor) until I can move it to my beds and paths.
Department of Public Works Speaks
So if it's such an obviously good thing for towns to do, how come in the whole DC area there are only 3 or 4 small suburban towns that do it, and D.C. not at all? To get to the bottom line of the whole operation I talked to Darrl Braithwaite, our director of Public Works (and because it's not obvious from her name, excuse me while I tell you she's a female. There are so few women in that job I couldn't resist.)
According to Daryl, their grinding operation pays for itself because they avoid paying to transport and dump all those leaves somewhere else. The only cost was really just the purchase of this basic grinder because regular staff are used during regular hours to do the grinding. Then for the many loads of mulch that are ordered delivered to people's driveways, the delivery fee covers staff time, and deliveries are only made when the crew isn't needed for something more urgent. (The fee is $65 for up to 10 cubic yards.)
How the City Uses all that Mulch
Turns out we residents don't pick up or pay to have delivered nearly enough of the stuff – coz we're a very leafy town, ya know – so the big challenge in this whole operation is getting rid of all the mulch before leaf pick-up operations the following November. So of course they use the mulch on all the city gardens (and we have lots), so the city saves there, too, by not having to buy mulch.
But what's really cool is that the city still gets to be generous with tons more of the stuff, and that just makes everybody happy. Recipients of unlimited amounts of free mulch include: the county's largest public garden (they come and pick it up, truckloads of it). The National Arboretum. Bancroft School in D.C. (home of the White House gardeners). Other cities around D.C. The county's community college. All sorts of nonprofits.
What's your City's Excuse?
If your town or county is still sending organic matter to the dump, why? If they don't have the space for a composting operation, it may be possible to rent space and still break even on the operation. Anyway, it can all happen in a surprisingly small space.
For more about the grinder pictured here, especially how much it cost, I'm sending this to Darryl for her answer. I wonder if grinders are available on Craigslist – everything else is, right?
The Big Recycling
A quick check of Takoma Park's website reveals that their leaf and yard debris pick-up is just one of a slew of recycling services they perform. If they've missed something, let me know and I'll pass along the suggestion. Or if your town is missing out on an opportunity to recycle, let them know.