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City looks at compost options

January 15, 2012
By KYLE WHITNEY - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE -The Marquette City Commission agreed on Wednesday to begin reviewing costs associated with switching the city's waste management system to one that would include pick up and composting of organic materials.

Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority director Rick Aho told the commission Wednesday night that it should consider taking advantage of local recycling and composting programs in the future. Aho said his organization has the ability and capacity to also compost and recycle materials from the community.

"This is a countywide program," Aho said. "It works much better with municipalities that are closer to the landfill," Aho said.

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Officials from surrounding Townships were also on-hand to hear Aho's pitch.

The city currently utilizes the MCSWMA's landfill for its solid waste disposal, at a cost of $38.50 per ton. Aho said that rate is much lower than those throughout the Upper Peninsula, but he said his organization can dispose of organic waste for less than $20 per ton.

According to Aho's estimates, 60 percent of the average Marquette resident's waste is compostable. Another 30 percent is recyclable. Items that can be composted include wood, plants, most food and many paper products.

Under his proposed plan, then, organics would be composted on MCSWMA land adjacent to the landfill at the lower cost, while the reduced solid waste would be placed in the landfill. Recyclable materials would be handled at no cost to the city and Aho mentioned the possibility of splitting recycling-related profits with the city.

Though the plan appealed to many of the commissioners, there is much number-crunching remaining.

"I think the devil is in the details," Marquette Mayor John Kivela said. "I like it in theory, but I think we've got a lot of work to get there."

The city currently contracts hauling services through Waste Management and the company transports the city's solid waste to the landfill. Waste Management also handles recycling services for the city, and those materials leave the area to be processed.

City officials voiced concerns that a transportation system allowing for the pickup of garbage, recyclables and compostable materials could prove too cumbersome and costly to justify a switch. The city's current contract with Waste Management expires in June of 2013 and Marquette Mayor John Kivela said he would like to explore the options as soon as possible.

In order to justify a switch, citizens would have to be informed on the concept of composting.

"We've got to start having these conversations now, because there is going to be a huge education process," Kivela said. "Also, we need to see the numbers and see what the additional cost is. Separation, containers, hauling this - that's all going to cost more. We know we can save some money on the tipping fees, but what's the additional cost?"

One benefit of the switch, though, would be a possible life extension for the landfill, which Aho said has about 60 years of use left.

"We are the biggest - percentage-wise - owner of the landfill," Marquette Superintendent of Public Works Scott Cambensy told the commission. "So anything that we can do to increase the life of that landfill without having to expand it (would be good). If we can increase the amount of organics we're putting into the waste stream and landfill less, we'll get increased life out of the landfill."

City Commissioner David Saint-Onge said he is not opposed to extending the life of the landfill and realizing long-term savings. For the sake of the citizens, though, he wants to see short-term results, as well.

"You have to put us in a position where we pass savings - tangible savings, not long-term capital savings - on to the citizens of Marquette," he told Aho.

The commission agreed to have city staff run the numbers with regard to a switch and to revisit the topic at a later date.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. His email address is



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