LARGO — Sustainability officials for the cities of Largo and Clearwater say they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty to protect the environment. And they say residents shouldn’t be either.
That’s why both cities have recently launched community composting programs in an effort to help residents decrease carbon emissions and reduce waste while improving their gardens at the same time.
The idea of community composting, which is a natural process in which organic matter is transformed into a nutrient-rich and crumbly soil, has become increasing popular in Pinellas County.
The city of St. Petersburg started a program just over a year ago. Clearwater launched its own earlier this month, and Dunedin has one in the works. Largo is the latest to join the composting club. Its program will officially start Oct. 16.
The city’s sustainability coordinator, Laura Thomas, updated city commissioners Aug. 18 on the program.
“We’re trying to take part in a regional countywide effort to increase our efforts to divert waste from landfills,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the city is purchasing 500 at-home composting bins for as much as $20,000.
Residents who live in single-family homes will be able to request a 65-gallon bin using a form on Largo.com, and the city will deliver the bin, along with educational materials, for free.
Thomas said city staff will also work to ensure there is an educational campaign to help residents unfamiliar with composting.
“We will actually partner with Keep Pinellas Beautiful to help promote the program and ensure participation and that our residents have all the information that they need,” she said, referring to the nonprofit organization that focuses on conservation and beautification efforts.
Clearwater’s program is slightly different but also puts an emphasis on education.
The city is encouraging interested residents to enroll in an online class called Create Compost that will teach the basics and benefits of backyard composting. The class is available at myclearwater.com/compost.
With proof of residency, the first 500 residents who complete the course are eligible to receive a free compost bin at a monthly pickup date. The program runs through December.
Largo Mayor Woody Brown said the program will help the environment and residents’ gardens, but it will also help the city’s bottom line by diverting waste from landfills.
The city currently pays $37.50 a ton for its waste collection, and that number is expected to increase, so lightening the load will help.
“If we were just doing this to save money, this will pay for itself in about a year and a half,” he said.
He did wonder, however, how the city was going to make sure residents who received a bin were going to use it for the right reason.
“How do we confirm that the people are using them for composting and not to store Legos?” he asked Thomas.
She said the bins are actually bottomless 65-gallon cylinders, and staff intends on doing surveys every six months or so to see how residents are using them.
Brown said he already does composting at his house, so he knows the benefits.
“It’s going to help improve the environment. It’s going to help improve the soil in people’s gardens,” he said. “So, there’s a lot of cool positives to this program, and I’m really excited for it.”