One caring fifth-grader brought a healthy change to her neighborhood – composting

BY FREDA MIKLIN
GOVERNMENT REPORTER

According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in a report from June 2019, “Americans landfilled or incinerated over 50 million tons of compostable waste in 2015. That is enough to fill a line of fully-loaded 18-wheelers, stretching from New York City to Los Angeles ten times. The system of collecting, landfilling and incinerating waste is a costly one that contributes to global warming and creates toxic air and water pollution. Composting could reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills and incinerators in the U.S. by at least 30 percent.” It continues, “A growing number of cities, towns and states are recognizing the benefits of composting programs. In just the last five years, the number of communities offering composting programs has grown by 65 percent. By following the best practices of programs around the country, American communities can launch successful composting programs that reduce waste, contribute to a sustainable food system, help tackle global warming, and reduce harmful air and water pollution. Compost can help create a robust and sustainable agricultural system.”

This is the three-part poster that Julia made to help her explain the importance of composting to her neighbors.

One day last year, Julia Lace, then a fourth-grader at Greenwood Elementary School, was visiting her aunt in Denver, where composting is a service available to residents through the city. Julia told The Villager, “I was eating a banana and my aunt told me not to throw away the peel. I learned that it helps the environment and stops pollution.” Julia, who lives in Greenwood Village, told us she “wondered why we didn’t have composting in our neighborhood,” and began researching companies that could provide the service. She found Wompost, a woman-owned company located in Aurora, and decided to contact them. 

Greenwood Elementary fifth-grader Julia Lace is pictured with Wompost founder Carolyn Pace. Photo courtesy of Norah Janosy

That led to a meeting with Carolyn Pace, Wompost’s founder. Julia explained that she met with Carolyn, who told her that, “in order for Wompost to start servicing a new zip code, she needed 50 customers.” Continuing, Julia said, “It was scary going up to their door,” but (along with her mother Norah), she did it. Julia said that, “Some people understood but most didn’t know what composting was. I gave them a flyer that told them what it was and how it worked. I told them that Wompost picks it up and would also bring them compost for their gardens.” She even met with her neighborhood HOA and talked to them about it, after which they told her they plan to pursue the idea of promoting the availability of composting. Next, she plans to meet with her school principal about getting composting at her school. Julia’s mom, Norah, told us it took about six months to get 50 new people to sign up, but Julia did it and now the service is available through Wompost to customers in the 80111 and 80121 zip codes. 

We reached out to Carolyn Pace, who told The Villager that, “Composting the millions of tons of mineral-rich food material that goes into landfills each year could help reverse climate change.” She explained that, “Composting is a process that mimics what was once a natural process by which organic material naturally enriched the soil and made it increasingly fertile. Compost can enhance food nutrition, increase crop yields, strengthen plants immune systems, and increase the ability of soil to hold water. More plant growth also takes more carbon out of the atmosphere. Compost is a regenerative substance. It is an essential microbial source, a probiotic for the land. Currently, more than half of material going into landfills in the U.S. are compostable food scraps, paper, yard trimmings, and wood. Only 5% of food scraps get composted, 95% go to landfills. There it rots, creating methane gas, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than CO2.”

Carolyn shared that Boulder, in addition to Denver, makes this service available to their residents. In Denver, residents who opt for composting, pay to receive it. Wompost, which has been around since January 2019, charges $9 per month if you drop off your compost. For $29.29 per month, they will pick up your compost weekly for a small bin or $39.39 for a larger one. If you want to skip a week for any reason, you can just let them know and you’ll get a $5 credit for any week that is skipped. 

Back in September 2020, as it was preparing to issue requests for proposal for a new contract for the trash and recycling service that it provides for free to over half of its residents, City of Greenwood Village staff asked the city council if it should explore including composting in the contract. Council was told that, in Denver, approximately 20% of residents, opt to get it. City Council Member Donna Johnston said, “There are so many people in my district who want an option for composting,” she favored making it available in some manner. Council Member Anne Ingebretsen recommended that the city survey residents to determine if they want to have composting available and whether they want to increase recycling pick-up from biweekly to weekly. No survey was conducted, recycling bins are still picked up bi-weekly, and composting has not been offered through GV to its residents. John Jackson, GV city manager, told The Villager that there is no plan to conduct a survey of GV residents about composting, because, composting “is not being considered, at this time, as a provided service by the city.” However, GV intends to host an event sometime in the late spring or summer “to offer information and resources to citizens who are potentially interested in composting,” so that they can purchase the service themselves if they choose to do so. 

Wompost is just one of several local companies who provide composting service in the metro area. We wanted to know why composting has not caught on more. Carolyn told us, “We got distracted with recycling, even though composting is more beneficial for the environment. It all happens locally, stays within the state. Back in the 1970s, we created this large, confusing recycling system.” There’s also the issue that, “A lot of people think it’s stinky but it isn’t.” She added that it is part of everyday life in Europe and it was in the U.S., as well, until chemical fertilizers were created.

In an article penned for The Villager last year by GV resident Bob Doyle, we found out that in 2017, the European Parliament said that, “46% of all municipal waste in the EU is recycled or composted.”

fmiklin.villager@gmail.com