Dunedin officials plan to roll out a backyard compost program for residents.

DUNEDIN — City officials are preparing to offer a down-to-earth free program to residents that will help protect the environment.

City Sustainability Program Coordinator Natalie Gass explained the details of the Dunedin Backyard Compost Program to city commissioners at their work session Feb. 16.

City officials plan to buy 160 82-gallon bins at $40.52 per bin to distribute free to residents who participate in a 90-minute course followed by a short quiz. Gass said the city's total cost for the program would be about $8,500 for the first year.

Among the benefits, the program is expected to help promote healthy soils, gardens and ecosystems in the city. Greenhouse gasses and wastes are expected to be reduced.

City officials said they appreciated the city of Clearwater's efforts in developing an educational composting course, which is offered at no cost to the public.

Commissioner John Tornga asked about the advantages of the city providing bins as opposed to residents buying small bins at different retail outlets for $10 to $20.

Residents don't have to get a bin from the city to participate in the program, but the bin's size makes a difference, Gass said.

An 82-gallon bin holds a lot of material, Gass said.

"If you get it too small, it can't compost correctly and you just don't have any room to have your food waste in there," she said.

The bins the city will provide have specific ventilation, which is also required, and an open bottom to allow microorganisms to move up and down through the columns of the compost, she said.

Tornga also asked if there is a reason city officials don't want to charge for the bins.

"We just want it to be open to the public. This is really good way they can continue to do sustainability at home," Gass said.

Bill Pickrum, city solid waste division director, said that the program will reduce some of the debris that is dumped into the city's green cans, which are used by residents for household garbage.

Keeping some of the debris out of the green cans helps reduce tipping fees that the city absorbs on its daily costs to support solid waste operations, he said.

Gass said that county officials encourage cities to have composting programs because that material does not do as well as other materials at their disposal plant.

Neighboring cities that have such programs are St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo and Tampa.

Without having taken educational courses, people could compost waste incorrectly and put it next to a neighbor's fence, she said.

"If you just have a whole bin of food waste you are going to attract critters; you are just going to have smell," she said.

Pickrum called the process a soft opening.

"Getting 160 in inventory. See how it rolls out. This isn't citywide," Pickrum said.

Gass expects to start the program in late March or early April.

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski praised city officials for initiating the program.

She asked what benefits composting provides to residents.

"It's just a way to promote better gardening, better Florida friendly landscaping and a way for residents to enjoy the outdoors more," Gass said.