Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Juneau Composts! owner Lisa Daugherty delivers compost every two weeks. She said she delivers compost several times a year, not every two weeks.
The clock is ticking for Juneau’s landfill.
Eric Vance, the manager of Juneau’s Capitol Disposal Landfill, estimated that the landfill will likely be full in about 20-23 years unless the city finds ways to divert trash elsewhere. Then Juneau will have to start shipping its trash out of town.
One Juneau resident, Lisa Daugherty, has talked passionately about how composting food and yard waste could help extend the life of the landfill. She started her business, Juneau Composts!, in 2017 and is on the cusp of moving to a more central location.
This summer, Daugherty applied to lease City and Borough of Juneau land for her composting service (which composted an estimated 32,000 pounds of food waste in 2017). Her current location is about 25 miles out the road, making it difficult for people to come drop off food or yard waste.
Her original intent was to lease a gravel pit on Fish Creek Road on Douglas, but she said someone at the city proposed leasing a gravel pit in Lemon Creek next to Home Depot instead. Daugherty was elated at that suggestion, as that location is central, near the landfill and away from houses.
“That’s one of the reasons I wanted a centralized spot and a spot that was more industrial rather than having neighbors is because I want to accept drop-off of yard debris so people have a place to bring their brush leaves grass all that stuff,” Daugherty said.
Composting is the process of breaking down organic matter into soil. Daugherty has perfected her method over the span of 10 years, figuring out which materials are best to mix in with the waste to help speed up the decomposition process.
The Lands and Resources Committee passed a motion of support this past Monday to work on a lease with Juneau Composts! The CBJ Assembly and the Planning Commission will have their chance to consider the application and approve or deny it.
Daugherty started her business last spring with three regular customers. Now, she picks up waste from around 140 people and eight businesses in town. She processes about 1,700 pounds of waste per week, she said, and delivers batches of fresh soil to customers several times a year. People can sign up for curbside service by going to www.juneaucomposts.com.
“I think Juneau is way behind the curve in managing trash,” Daugherty said. “Twenty states have organics bans, so you can’t bring your leaves, your brush and your grass to the landfill, and we have a very finite amount of time that our landfill’s going to be open before we’re shipping our trash south like Haines and other communities. Well, what can we do to address it? There are very simple things. Composting is one of them.”
Vance said it’s hard to estimate just how much a composting operation could extend the landfill’s lifespan, but to those trying to figure out a solution, any efforth elps. CBJ Lands Manager Greg Chaney said this would be the first time Juneauites would have a centralized location to drop off their compostable materials.
“I think everyone will agree, we need to get a handle on our solid waste stream,” Chaney said. “The landfill has a lifespan. Once we get to the end of that, we don’t really have a plan. This is a good way to extend the life of the landfill.”
Composting is listed in the CBJ’s 2016 Solid Waste Action Plan, listing the possibility of starting a composting program by 2018. That hasn’t materialized yet, but some CBJ staff members are actively encouraging people and organizations to consider composting.
Michele Elfers, the program manager for the CBJ’s Recycleworks program, has spoken to the CBJ Assembly many times in recent years about the importance of diverting waste away from the landfill. She said the city doesn’t have a composting program but she encourages people to compost on their own.
Elfers said Harborview Elementary has had a composting program in the past that city staff members have helped with, and they’re hoping to get that program back up and running. Elfers said organic waste takes up a great deal of room in the landfill, and if even some of that can go elsewhere, it would help make the landfill last.
“It’s recognized as a piece to the bigger picture,” Elfers said.
CBJ Park Maintenance Supervisor Ben Patterson estimated that the department composts a few tons a year, mostly of flowers, leaves and wood chips. Patterson said they try to repurpose as much of their waste as they can, but they just don’t have the space or time to do it on a large scale. He said he wishes the city had a centralized program to encourage people to compost more.
Juneau Composts! isn’t the only way for people to help out, as composting is easy to do at home where people can turn their leftover food into soil for their gardens.
“Everybody can just compost right where they are and then there’s a final product that’s beneficial,” Daugherty said, “and I think skipping the whole barge ride is pretty significant, and reducing carbon emissions for sure.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.