An average of 800 Spokane County, Wash., households each year earn free Geobin composting systems by participating in waste diversion programs such as eagerly rotating through six learning stations during one of two seasonal compost fairs.
“We want to encourage the public to reduce waste through increased home recycling and home composting and also raise awareness that those items don’t belong in garbage,” says Kristine Major, education coordinator for Spokane Solid Waste Disposal, adding that the bins are subsidized through the Coordinated Prevention Grants from Washington Department of Ecology to further waste reduction.
In the 18 years of the compost fair, hosted by Spokane County’s Master Composter/Recycler program, the residents learn about everything from how to build a compost pile to what worms work best for vermicomposting to the benefits of compost itself.
“We used to make our own bins out of wire, which was not very practical. We had been looking for the right kind of bin to give to the public and when we found the Geobin—it just seemed to fit the bill,” Major says. “It is easy to assemble and move, looks attractive in a backyard setting, holds up well in the weather, is easy to store and move in large numbers, and can’t be beat for its price."
Major says her department does as much education outreach as possible to encourage a positive experience among residents which is critical “or they are not going to continue to compost,” she says. “The same is true for the bins. If the bins don’t work well, they aren’t going to use them.”
The adjustable 216-gallon bin—with an open bottom and top and secured with five interchangeable closure keys—is the darling of more than 100 municipalities across the country and a powerful tool to encourage residents to divert their food scraps, says Bill Handlos, Geosystems director. Geosystems is the maker of the Geobin composting system.
In fact, the company expects its Geobin revenues to grow 50 percent this year alone.
“There is the perfect combination of citizen awareness and desire to be more earth friendly and municipalities assisting in priming the pump because of the savings that composting results in. Yes, it feels good and it’s the right thing to do but also saves a tremendous amount of money,” says Handlos, who has been working with municipalities from Maryland to Washington to grow and expand backyard composting programs. Depending on where you are in the country, he says those can vary widely from $23 to $30 a ton in collection costs and up to $32 a ton in disposal or tipping fees.
“Everybody is interested in saving money, and here is where the amazing thing comes in, at least 25 percent of the waste I generate tonight—if I’m the average citizen—will be yard trimming and food scraps,” he says.
The Geobin is made with a combination of recycled and virgin HDPE though that amount varies from day to day, time of year and demand from secondary markets.
“We still have the lowest price compost bin to my knowledge in the world. It’s a pretty fundamental product but it does the job,” says Handlos. The bin retails for $31.99 but the bulk pricing for municipalities can range from $24.99 for two, $18.50 for 480, or $15.50 for orders of 4,800 bins. All the pricing is easily accessible on the Geobin website. “A lot of consumers fall for the trappings of complicated compost. You don’t need tumblers, or drums, or fancy turning devices. You just need to get a lot of air and water into properly mixed compost.”
One of the most effective ways to get people to start composting is for municipalities to offer subsidized bins to their residents, according to a University of Wisconsin study of 249 backyard composting programs.
“The average subsidy was $18.50 a bin,” Handlos says. “What we get excited about is if the average subsidy equals the value of our bin, we see people as having an opportunity and municipalities having an opportunity to subsidize half or all of a bin without much effort and the savings that they glean, they can pay off the bin in 10-15 months.”