This might just be the most wonderful time of year for garbage in Buffalo.
Leaves get mulched. Christmas trees will get chipped.
The rest of the year? There’s a chance if you put a bag or two out on the curb, they’re going to the landfill.
It’s more than a bit irksome to spend an afternoon dutifully bagging up yard waste into clear plastic bags, only to see them dumped into a garbage truck.
Annoying as that is, there are bigger issues. The city pays for everything it sends to the landfill – whether it’s real garbage or twigs and leaves that don’t need to be buried for eternity in a pile of muck. All that costs money and fills up increasingly precious landfill space with greens that could be turned into gardening supplies.
Here’s the good news: It’s an issue city officials are thinking about.
Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steven Stepniak said the city is looking at options for expanding its yard waste program, but he’s mum on what alternatives the city is exploring.
“It does become a little bit more complicated in the city, because of the geographics and on-street parking, so we’re trying to make a cost-effective program the best we can and be as green as possible,” Stepniak said.
Done right, it could be a money saver.
The city, Stepniak said, has already seen savings with leaves and yard waste it mulches during the fall and intermittently the rest of the year when residents can drop off yard waste at a city public works facility on Seneca Street.
It costs roughly $50 for every ton of waste that goes into the landfill. Stepniak estimates that the city saves $30 a ton on leaves that it composts, and it gets mulch it can distribute to block clubs and other organizations.
It’s done successfully in other mid-sized cities.
Salt Lake City, for example, was told 20 years ago that the lifespan on its landfill was 20 years, said its director of sustainability, Vicki Bennett. Today, because of ramped up recycling efforts that include yard waste composting, Bennett estimates it has another 40 to 50 years.
Two years ago, the city distributed a third tote to every resident for yard waste. Like Buffalo, it previously had a fall program in which the city collected bagged leaves. It now collects yard waste and compostable materials once a week and turns it into compost and mulch.
There’s an incentive for residents to recycle and compost more. Those who choose a smaller garbage tote pay less.
“It is much more beneficial to us, and we come out ahead to be able to process it that way and sell it, compared to just landfilling it,” Bennett said. “It’s cheaper than the cost to landfill, and then there’s the recovery of actual revenue created by selling the compost.”
It can be done locally. The Town of Amherst offers curbside pickup of leaves and yard waste from March through November. The town has a unique arrangement, because it previously owned the composting facility where yard clippings are taken, so it just pays to pick up materials.
“It’s just wasteful anyway,” said Amherst Superintendent of Highways Robert Anderson. “It’s ridiculous to throw something that can be composted into the landfill. It just doesn’t make good business sense.”
Those in the sanitation business call it the “diversion rate” – waste rerouted from the landfill that saves money. The rest of us can call it common sense.