August 28, 2019

Composting rocks! Tune in for my interview with Tara Tull, one of the coordinators of the 2019 Denver Compost Challenge. Hear how she and other partners are encouraging Denver residents to compost more, any way they can! 

Meet Tara Tull

Tara Tull's interest in the environment traces back to the Woodsy Owl messages of the 1960's, "Give a hoot. Don't pollute!" What began as picking up litter, then led her to starting out as an environmental studies major in college. As part of the Endangered Species Club, Tara experienced the heartbreak of hearing how species were going extinct. That heartbreak was difficult to bear. 

After falling in love with Women's Studies, Tara switched majors. She ended up as a professor, did research in Women's Studies and Human Trafficking and ran a Women's Center. Recently retired, Tara was anxious to get back to her initial passion of the environment.

She decided that urban sustainability and working with neighbors would be the best way to go, because it's an overall positive experience and you get to know your neighbors!

Tara attended the 2018 Sustainable Denver Summit, where Joan and Tara first met. Tara was already part of the Congress Park Neighbors Green Team, a group originally started by Joan in 2016. Tara was seeking ways to make an even bigger impact.

In January 2019, Tara joined the Green Team Accelerator Lab, an initiative led by Joan to mentor 20 teams across Metro Denver. Tara had an idea of a neighborhood-to-neighborhood waste diversion challenge. She brought it to the Accelerator Lab meetings. Other neighborhoods quickly hopped on board. Tara met with Taylor Moellers, of Denver Sustainable Neighborhoods and Tay Dunklee with Denver Recycles, who both agreed to partner.

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Denver Compost Challenge

Sponsored by Denver Recycles, Denver Sustainable Neighborhoods and the Green Team Academy, the Denver Compost Challenge kicked off in April 2019 to continue through November 2019

Huge Potential

About half of the materials picked up from Denver residents bound for the landfill could instead be composted. Now, all addresses in Denver's service area (residences up to 7 dwellings) have access to the Denver Composts! program, but only about 10% have signed up for the weekly pick-up of the green composting cart. 

  • Increase the number of residents composting through the Denver Composts program or other option
  • Decrease contamination in compost (and recycling)
  • Build community and neighborhood connectedness
Coordinating Committee

The coordinating committee includes the sponsoring organizations, along with several neighborhoods and partners. Coordinating committee members are taking action to promote composting:

  • Tara Tull, with Congress Park Neighbors Green Team and the Green Team Accelerator Lab, is acting as the challenge coordinator. 
  • Denver Recycles created a new Denver Compost Challenge webpage. This includes a leaderboard that shows the percent of each neighborhood that is using the "green cart", curbside composting. 
  • Denver Sustainable Neighborhoods created a Denver Compost Challenge Toolkit with ideas and resources for neighbors to promote composting.
  • Green Team Academy is assisting with marketing support.
  • Jasmin Barco of Eco-Cycle has been instrumental in doing outreach and coordination.
  • Many on the coordinating committee attend events including farmers markets, parades and festivals to answer questions and promote composting.
Compost Challenge Coordinating Committee Meeting

Neighbors, Denver city staff and partners work together on the Denver Compost Challenge Coordinating Committee

Innovative Neighbor-to-Neighbor Outreach

There are so many ways to reach out and talk composting! Here are some fun examples:

Renee Arrington, in Bonnie Brae Neighborhood, noticed that none of her alley neighbors had a green composting cart. On a summer afternoonn, she held a Composting House Party in the alley to talk about the benefits of composting and answer questions. Within weeks, four of her neighbors ordered a cart.

West Colfax Avenue Neighborhood is promoting composting at the weekly Weed and Wine workdays at the community garden. In addition, Elizabeth Walsh and Heidi Newhart are hosting composting workshops and doing neighbor-to-neighbor door-knocking campaigns. 

Sustainable Highlands walked in the Fourth of July parade with landfill, recycling and composting bins. They then set up a zero waste stations to answer questions and help attendees dispose of items properly.

Renee Arrington shares about composting with her neighbors in the Bonnie Brae neighborhood in Denver at a summer Composting House Party. (July 2019)

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Community-Based Social Marketing: Intercept Survey

To identify what the key issues were for people around composting, Tara turned to the book, Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing by Doug McKenzie-Mohr.

Tara said, "The book reiterates that it's one-to-one neighbor-to-neighbor conversations that are really going to make change in a way that nothing else does."  

Tara tested out the book's Intercept Survey to quickly garner input from approximately 50 people at the Denver Botanic Gardens Plant Sale in May 2019. 

Tara asked attendees at the plant sale:

  • Would you be willing to answer three quick questions about composting? 
  • Do you currently compost at home? 
  • If yes: What do you find rewarding about composting? Do you find anything challenging about composting? 
  • If no: What do you find challenging about composting? If you did, what do you feel the rewards would be?

Common Questions and Misunderstandings

Through these 1-to-1 conversations, Tara found that many people were uncertain or confused about composting options:

  • Apartment dwellers didn't know about third-party compost pick-up services
  • Gardeners wanted to start backyard composting but didn't know about Denver Urban Garden's free composting classes and Master Composter expert services
  • Some in the Denver service area didn't know the compost cart was an option
  • Others didn't realize all the materials that are actually allowed in the green cart provides answers to all these common questions! 

Tara and Jasmin

Tara Tull of Congress Park Green Team and Jasmin Barco of Eco-Cycle staff a Zero Waste Station at the Highlands Fourth of July Fair

Many Ways to Compost in Denver

The Denver Compost Challenge encourages residents to compost any way they can!

  • Curbside composting: Sign up for the Denver Composts! Program to get a green bin delivered to your home. Compost is collected weekly. The cost to participate is $29.25 per quarter.
  • Backyard composting: Start a compost pile in your yard. Learn how with free classes from Denver Urban Gardens, or request help from a Master Composter. 
  • Free Drop-Off: Denver residents can drop-off compostable materials for free at the Cherry Creek Recycling Drop-Off.
  • Vermicomposting: If you have a moderate amount of food waste can compost with a worm bin, known as vermicomposting. 
  • Third-Party Compost Collection: If you live in an apartment or want to compost at your business in Denver, you're in luck! See below for a list of companies that can pick up your composting. 

Third-Party Compost Collection Companies

Compost Cart: Easy to Love

Living in homes with lots of large trees and gardens, Tara was amazed at just how much organic material needs to be handled. Before having the compost cart, Tara said, "I always felt terrible shoving branches and leaves into the dumpster." 

Tara signed up for the compost cart service as soon as it was available in her neighborhood.

"I have fallen in love with my compost cart. From the day I got it, I thought, this is the best thing ever," said Tara.

"To me, composting creates a beautiful circle."

Whether it's something that grows in the yard or food waste, organic materials can be put in the cart.Tara said, "I know that it's locally processed, unlike most recycling. A1 Organics is local. They turn it into this beautiful, delicious compost that is so good for the soil."

Tara said that another thing she loves about composting is that it's an opportunity to be part of the natural cycle, which is rare when you live in an urban environment. 

Composting as Climate Action

When organic materials are buried in a landfill, they decompose anaerobically (without oxygen). This gives off methane, a gas that can be 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide for global warming. 

Instead, when you compost your organics, you avert the production of methane. Methane doesn't last as long as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But given the short time period we have to respond to climate change, avoiding the production of more methane is important. 

The composting process involves organic matter, moisture, oxygen and bacteria. The result is decomposed organic material.

Because compost helps plants and trees grow, and improves the water holding capacity of the soil, using compost aids carbon sequestration.

Composting and using compost are two easy and powerful climate actions.

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