Athens City Council passed a resolution Tuesday that adds composting to the city’s refuse and recycling contract.

The addition of composting to the contract means all those enrolled in the program will receive a five gallon composting bucket and pick-up services for an additional $6.33 a month, according to a previous Post report.

The service is opt-out, meaning if residents do not wish to receive the service, they will have to contact the city’s billing office and cancel the service. The program was made to be opt-out because of the COVID-19 pandemic and fears about affordability for citizens during that time.

Each person who is in the program and does not opt out of the service will receive information on what materials are able to be composted and what materials are not along with their bucket.

Additionally, information on how to opt out will be provided.

The city has been hoping to add composting services for a long time, Councilman Sam Crowl, D-3rd Ward, said.

“We had declared a climate emergency resolution passed within the last six months, really declaring that the city needs to do what it can to meet the climate emergency that we're under, and composting is one of those things,” Crowl said.

Crowl thinks the program being opt-out has the possibility of increasing its success. An opt-in program, Crowl said, would likely include people already aware of the way composting can help the environment, whereas an opt-out program would be a better way to further extend the program.

“The purpose of the program was really to have an impact on the methane gas production in landfills, then we wanted the program to be as successful as possible,” Crowl said. “And my argument was that an opt-out program gave it a wider chance of acceptance and more people deciding to separate their food waste from their landfill waste.”

Some city council members, like Councilwoman Arian Smedley, D-1st Ward, did not agree with having an opt-out program. 

Smedley said she agreed with the importance of such a program but was not comfortable with the opt-out aspect.

“I've had a hard time coming to terms with charging people automatically for services they don't have to pay for,” Smedley said. “The more honest thing to do would be to have the opt-in.”

Bruce Underwood, executive director of the Athens-Hocking Recycling Centers, said there are many compostable items in Athens citizens’ day-to-day lives that could be composted at their facilities. Simple items, such as food scraps from both cooking prep and leftover meals, can be put in the composting buckets, he said.

The center’s composting system works by compiling food waste, mixing it with a bulking agent — which, in this case, is wood chips — and compiling it in concrete bays for months. 

Composting works by decomposing food in a controlled environment, unlike allowing it to decompose in a landfill.

Composting is especially important for reducing waste because when food waste decomposes in landfills without oxygen and proper decomposition systems, it produces methane gas, Crowl said. Methane is a greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming. 

Although today it seems like a foreign concept, composting has been a very normal activity throughout history, Underwood said.

“We've been doing this for a long time as people,” Underwood said. “This is just making it more accessible to the ... apartment renter or to the house dweller who doesn't have a huge backyard,” Underwood said.

Crowl said composting is both cost and environmentally beneficial, and food waste actually is a very useful material.

“If we separate the recyclables that we know can be reused and be more part of a circular manufacturing or circular economy, then that's beneficial,” Crowl said. “We've also learned that removing the food waste organic matter has a lot of value. It can be … used to create a type of fertilizer that's very useful in gardens and on farms.”

Crowl said he has high hopes for the program and hopes Ohio University’s students currently residing in Athens will take composting with them as they move on in the world.