Learning a Lesson

Success often is determined by the amount of work invested. In its efforts to reduce waste, Euless, Texas, found success in 2004 with “Compost-ology, the Science and Fun of Backyard Composting,” a series of interactive workshops and presentations for teachers, students and residents created by Lori De La Cruz, a former recycling coordinator.

As is the case in many communities, Euless officials wanted to diminish the amount of waste going to landfills and explored several initiatives, including a curbside recycling program. However, the city's waste reduction efforts lacked a key component: handling yard and food waste. To address this need, Euless Mayor Mary Lib Saleh called upon De La Cruz to implement “Compost-ology” as part of an overall composting education program. “[The city was] just looking for an additional waste reduction device with an education component to reduce some of that waste stream,” De La Cruz says.

During her tenure as the recycling coordinator for Fort Worth, Texas, in the 1990s, De La Cruz began the “Compost-ology” program, later offering it to communities through her business, Blue Marble Media, an environmental education company that specializes in composting education.

Funded by a grant disbursed through the North Central Texas Council of Government, “Compost-ology” covers composting and vermicomposting. Euless residents received promotional materials in utility bills and postcard mailings advertising the program's free, three-hour class that covers the basics of composting, such as how it works and the process of creating a composting bin. Participants each received a composting bin, thermometer, a worm bin with 1 pound of worms and a workbook. In addition to the resident training, De La Cruz held one-hour sessions in Euless schools, reaching more than 1,500 students and teachers.

Aided by “Compost-ology,” the city diverted more than 458 tons of garbage from landfills in 2005. The Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors and Houston-based Waste Management awarded Euless top prize in the small city category of the 2006 City Livability Awards, which recognizes mayors for their work in implementing programs to enhance community life.

De La Cruz hopes to expand “Compost-ology” to other communities throughout the country and continually works with cities to obtain funding to make this possible. In the meantime, she has enjoyed working in Euless, answering residents' questions and watching children create composting bins.

“There was a huge educational gap that needed to be bridged, and this class really allowed us the ability to do that face to face,” De La Cruz says. “It's great to have a Web site, and it's great to send out postcards, but it's that one-on-one educational opportunity that makes all the difference in the world.”