How To Save Millions By Grasscycling

Montgomery County, Md., residents' enthusiastic participation in a local grasscycling and composting program has curbed the county's plan to expand its centralized compost facility - a move that would have cost the county and its taxpayers more than $2.5 million.

Seventy percent of county residents are recycling their yard trimmings, saving Montgomery County up to $1 million annually in costs that would normally be spent on transportation and processing materials - this represents the largest home composting participation level of any area in the United States.

The program's success can be attributed to the organized effort the county took in conducting market research among residents and using media to communicate their message; an astounding 13,000 residents have attended lectures and workshops to learn the process.

A 1994 ban on the disposal of yard trimmings drove the county to launch a massive public education campaign encouraging residents to recycle their grass and leaves. The economics of an educational approach were immediately apparent.

Where the typical net cost to process yard trimmings at the county compost facility is $18 per ton, in 1995, the county spent only $4.38 per ton on source reduction programs, which in turn led to a permanent change in resident behavior.

Prior to developing the public education program, Montgomery County conducted a significant research study to determine residents' perspectives on grasscycling and composting; more than 1,100 households participated in baseline and follow-up surveys. Based on the research, lawn health became the campaign's major focus.

The campaign employed a variety of media including: television, radio, print, direct mail, transit advertising; public relations, lectures, hands-on workshops and school events.

"This is a great example of social engineering versus civil engineering," says Joseph M. Keyser, education specialist for the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection. "We made an investment in public education to change residents behavior, instead of investing in additional facilities. The market research conducted proved invaluable in shaping the program; giving the residents a voice in the process made it easier to help change their behavior."

In 1994, the county estimated that 103,000 tons of leaves, grass and brush would enter the recycling stream, while the county's compost facility could only accommodate 70,000 tons.

Expansion of the existing facility would cost the county and residents, $2.5 million. So, Montgomery County officials launched an extensive local public education effort that encouraged residents to recycle yard trimmings.

In the program's first year, only 52,000 tons of yard trimmings were placed curbside for recycling, instead of the anticipated 103,000 tons. The remaining 51,000 tons were grasscycled or composted by residents.

In 1995, an estimated 108,000 tons was reduced to 57,000 tons; 1996 figures show only 61,000 tons entering the recycling stream out of 110,000 tons generated.

Since the program's inception, the county has successfully reduced yard trimmings by 50,000 tons or more annually, while also decreasing the amount invested in source reduction education each year through continuous refinements on media placement and other more effective outreach vehicles.

Among the most cost-effective elements was the county's sale of 22,000 home compost bins at near cost, with more than 90 percent still in use after two years.

Realizing the importance of educating children, and their ability to influence parents behavior, the county also introduced a vermicomposting program for schools which allows children to participate in composting. Today, more than 10,000 students in 240 schools use VermiLab.

Montgomery County has received national recognition by winning a total of 21 awards for its grasscycling and composting program, including eight International ECO Awards by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the 1996 Outstanding Community Program Award from the National Recycling Coalition, Alexandria, Va.

In addition, the program received 11 local and regional Addy Awards for its public education materials and media advertising.

ARIZONA: Arizona Organics Products Committee, P.O. Box 2533, Phoenix, Ariz. 85002-2533. Phone Unlisted. Fax: (602) 207-4467.

CANADA: The Composting Council of Canada, 16 Northumberland St., Toronto, Ontario M4N2P5. (416) 335-6710. Fax: (416) 536-9892.

CALIFORNIA: California Compost Quality Council, 550 Meachrn Rd., Petaluma, Calif. 94952. (707) 664-9113. Fax: (707) 664-1943.

Association of Compost Producers, Biogrow Division, 19600 Fairchild, Ste.120, Irvine, Calif. 92715. (714) 476-4080. Fax: (714) 476-8614.

Association of North Coast Organic Recyclers, County of Sonoma DPW, 575 Administration Drive, Room 117A, Santa Rosa, Calif. 95403. (707) 527-2231. Fax: (707) 527-2620.

California Organic Recycling Council, 821 North Signal St., Ojai, Calif. 93023. (805) 681-4055. Fax: (805) 681-4051.

DELAWARE: Proposed Delaware Composting Association, P.O. Box 320, Milford, Del. 19963-0320. (302) 422-4544. (302) 422-5771.

FLORIDA: Florida Organics Recycling Association, 7501 North Jog Rd., West Palm Beach, Fla. 33412. (407) 640-4000. Fax: (407) 683-4067.

MICHIGAN: Michigan Composting Council, 3400 East Lafayette, Detroit, Mich. 48207. (313) 567-4700. Fax: (313) 567-3163.

NATIONAL: The Composting Council, 114 South Pitt St., Alexandria, Va. 22314. (703) 739-2401. Fax: (703) 739-2407.

NORTH CAROLINA: North Carolina Composting and Organics Recycling Council, P.O. Box 14061, Durham, N.C. 27709-4061. Phone/Fax: (919) 544-5324.

OHIO: Ohio Compost Producers Association, 3155 Research Blvd., Ste. 104, Dayton Ohio 45420. (513) 253-6888. Fax: (513) 253-3455.

OREGON: Proposed Oregon Composting Association, P.O. Box 1136, Aurnsville, Ore. 97325-1136. (503) 749-3117. Fax: (503) 749-3943.

PENNSYLVANIA: Pennsylvania Composting Association, P.O. Box 38783, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15238-8783. (412) 767-7645. Fax: (412) 767-5800.

TENNESSEE: Tennessee Composting Association, P.O. Box 4520, Sevierville, Tenn. 37864. (423) 453-5676. Fax: (423) 429-2373.

VIRGINIA: Virginia Organics Products Committee, Department of Crop and Soil Science, Blacksburg, Va. 24061-0403. Fax: (540) 231-9739. Fax: (540) 231-3075.

WASHINGTON: Washington Organic Recycling Council, 119 Pine St., Ste. 203, Seattle, Wash. 98101. (206) 622-9454. Fax: (206) 622-9569.

WEST VIRGINIA: West Virginia Composting Association, ASA Building, Room 128, Morgantown, W.Va. 26506. (304) 293-5031. Fax: (304) 293-3740.