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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Solid Waste Management on Tribal Lands

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Composting is a way of recycling organic materials, such as yard clippings and food scraps. Through controlled decomposition, bacteria can transform the materials into a nutrient-rich soil supplement. The temperature of the compost must be raised long enough to kill weed seeds and pathogens. To decompose effectively, organic matter also needs aeration and time to mature.

There are several ways to set up a tribal composting program, any of which would be a great addition to community recycling efforts. One way is to promote residential backyard composting. Under this type of program, composting demonstrations and workshops could be provided to the public along with an aggressive outreach and education campaign. Composting bins could be offered as an encouragement to each household to compost its organic materials. Typical organic materials produced by a household include food scraps, food contaminated paper products (such as pizza boxes, paper napkins/towels, and paper coffee cups), grass clippings, and other yard wastes. The benefits to individual households are significant – they will have less trash to dispose of and will gain compost material that improves the soil of their gardens.

Some tribes have also found it useful to establish composting programs at specific tribal facilities such as the community garden, the local school, a tribal business such as the casino, or the elder center. This may be especially beneficial if these facilities produce large amounts of compostable materials such as food waste. In many cases, composting green and food waste can reduce the amount of money a tribe must pay for waste disposal at a local landfill or transfer station. Since compostable waste is often very heavy because of its moisture content, managing the waste onsite means that a tribe potentially doesn't have to pay to have it hauled to a landfill.

Another option is to establish a community composting facility. Yard trimmings and/or food waste from residents could be collected or dropped off at an established site for composting. There are many types of municipal composting facilities. For more information on the options available, see EPA's main composting page. Factors to consider in selecting a site include convenience, weather conditions including wind and precipitation, odors, visual impact, dust, and noise. Well-trained staff will be needed to properly run the facility.

The compost produced can be used for landscaping projects in the community. If composition and nutrient content are controlled and documented, the compost could be sold commercially to farms, nurseries, or greenhouses. Compost that is contaminated with weed seeds, trash, or toxic compounds can be harmful to the soil, so monitoring is crucial.

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Composting Resources

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State Composting Resources

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