Chelsea Mulls Over Curbside Compost Service


Pictured here is the compost pile at the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority solid waste facility on Werkner Rd. where folks can drop off their compostable yard waste.

By Doug Marrin

Curbside pickup for compostable items such as grass clippings in Chelsea has been a hot topic.

“It is something that is discussed quite a lot on certain social media channels to the point that like hundreds of comments of people wanting that service and the confusion also about it having been offered in the past,” said Mayor Pacheco at the Sept. 6, 2022, City Council meeting.

There has been some confusion over the service, which has gotten some people understandably riled. The city provided curbside pickup for compostable items such as grass clippings and plants, and now it is not.

The confusion comes from the fact that the city has never officially offered curbside pickup of compostable materials, only brush. But, while picking up the brush, if there were a bag of clippings or weeds, the workers would pick it up out of goodwill. The problem is now what began as a nod-and-a-wink courtesy has grown beyond what the city’s DPW can manage. So, the informal service had to stop until something official could be figured out to handle the volume.

The WWRA facility on Werkner Rd. is at its permit capacity for compostable yard waste. If the city chose to collect yard waste whole-scale, it needs to find a reliable dumping location.

Derik Bollinger of Chelsea’s DPW explained the situation to the council at its meeting.

“The City has never before offered curbside compost pickup,” said Bollinger in his written statement. “We have, however, picked up small amounts of these items during monthly brush pickup operations as a courtesy to residents.”

On its website, the city tells residents:

“The Public Works Department picks up brush placed along the street-side curb extension. Scheduled brush pickup starts on the second Monday of the month. Crews pick up different size materials at different times that week due to the equipment required.

  • Place loose, dime-size or smaller sticks in a biodegradable bag or in a container that can be dumped. Please do not use plastic bags!
  • Stack larger branches and limbs (not bigger than four inches in diameter) with the large, cut ends facing the same direction for ease of moving.
  • Remove all roots, stumps and dirt from branches and limbs.
  • Do not include grass clippings, weeds, plants, yard rakings, sod or dirt. Public Act 264 of 1990 "Yard Clippings Diversion Act" prohibits lawn clippings from being placed with your garbage and brush.”

That last bullet is the point of consternation for folks. The city was picking it up. Now it's stopped. Residents would like it back. Bollinger reminded the council of what the website also says. “Residents can take this material to the Solid Waste Facility on Werkner Rd. where they can dispose of it for free.”

Bollinger informed the council that the Solid Waste Facility is already at its permitted capacity for compostable materials with people dropping it off. Implementing an official curbside pickup service would require a larger capacity the permit doesn’t allow.

Bollinger offered some questions and ideas for the council to ponder in pursuing the service on a citywide scale:

  • Pursuing contracted pickup services such as in Dexter: Dexter residents pay a separate refuse removal fee in their utility bills. This is not a tax-based fee. Waste Management, which provides the service for Dexter, does not offer it for Chelsea. Bollinger is placing inquiries with other removal services.
  • Chelsea DPW provides the service: Bollinger estimates a minimum cost of $3,000/month to the city for this service. Being that the Werkner Rd. facility is at its permit capacity, compost would have to be hauled to a facility in the Jackson area. Currently, compost can be dumped for free, but Bollinger cautioned that fees could come in the future. With the propensity for people to hide unacceptable materials in their compostable bags, he further warned the city could get blocked from disposing there.
  • How the new service would affect other services: A garbage truck would have to be used for the service, staffed with a driver and two workers in the back. The brown bag packaging to a system would have to be rethought to expose unacceptable items.

The item was on the council’s agenda for discussion only. City Manager Roy Atkinson closed the conversation by stating they would do more research on the subject and bring the information back to the council.

Photos by Doug Marrin

I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified