Dubuque County landfill to start satellite compost service

Dubuque County Metropolitan Solid Waste Agency soon will return to offering compost to area residents — this time for free for small loads.

The agency’s board recently approved a plan to distribute compost created at the county landfill to satellite bunker locations around the county, where residents can collect it for at-home use in their gardens or flower beds. Adding compost to garden soil offers many benefits, including adding nutrients, improving water retention and even repelling harmful pests from plants.

Municipalities can participate by entering into an agreement with the agency, by which the municipality would pay for collecting the compost from the landfill.

The agency previously sold compost until a local company opened and began producing it, which directed many of the county’s compostable materials away from the landfill.

“We weren’t generating enough green-based materials in our compost to make good compost,” said agency Director Ken Miller. “But that facility has since closed, so we’re getting those raw materials again.”

Miller said the agency has spent recent weeks identifying places to set up the satellite sites.

“There’s going to be up to three cinder block bunkers where residents will be able to get small loads of compost at no cost,” he said. “We know there will be one at the landfill, outside the gate, and another will be down at the public works building.”

Miller said the agency still is looking for areas outside the city for the third.

Dubuque County Supervisor Harley Pothoff, who represents the county on the agency board, said he thinks the program would be a win-win for residents outside the city, too.

“The landfill wants to get the compost out into the communities,” he said. “So, say a small town like Sherill wants to do this. The landfill will provide the cement blocks and build the bunker. The only fee the town would have is the trucking fee. I think it’s a great idea and one that ought to take off. Hopefully, we can get some towns interested.”

The plan that the board approved recently is for just three of these bunkers to start. But Miller said the landfill could support more sites if the project proves to be popular enough.

“We’ll have an overabundance of material,” he said. “Before, we could never get rid of what we had.”

Pothoff said the other benefit is that the program could cut down traffic at the landfill, compared to a scenario where that was the only location for pickup.

Miller said the compost created at the landfill has been tested, with good results, but must be certified. The sample is currently at a lab in Indiana, where that certification can take place.

Pothoff said the project should be up and running soon after that certification is approved.