Community support is essential for the successful operation of a compostable material handling site. A compostable material handling site will not succeed without the support of the community. Community outreach must become an ongoing integral part of a facility’s operations. Outreach should include an educational component about composting, feedstock materials, products, and materials collection programs as well as a very proactive and responsive odor complaint program.
All outreach efforts should be documented and a record of the efforts maintained by the site so that on-going and future outreach efforts may be optimized. Some excellent tips for conducting public hearings have been developed by local jurisdictions. Additionally, the Department of Toxic Substances Control has a publication on the public’s role in environmental decisions.
Community outreach should include local decision makers, businesses, public interest groups and the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. Educational information should be available in the various languages to best reach these stakeholder groups. All planning should promote environmental and public protection policies, and activities in a manner that promotes equity and affords fair treatment, accessibility, and protection for all Californians, regardless of race, age, culture, income, or geographic location. Involving the local community early in the planning process will assist operations later. The community will be more knowledgeable about the proposed facility and the nature of composting in general. Perceived health and safety concerns the public may have about composting can be dealt with before they turn into serious obstacles to the operation later. Additional information on community programs may be found in the Organics Toolbox.
Successful material collection programs control contaminant levels to less than 1 percent physical contaminants in the feedstock or curbside green material. This can be accomplished with a community outreach program that educates the public on the importance of clean feedstocks; for example, not adding food waste into the curbside green material bin. Additionally, if a community does not understand composting, the community will be more likely to see the site’s operation as a threat. Outreach must be initiated and included from the beginning of the planning process and maintained throughout the life of the facility.
Key Potential Players in an Outreach Strategy
- Decision Makers
- Owners, Board of Directors
- Politicians, Government Officials
- Planning Department, Political Staff
- Planning Consultants
- Technical Interest Groups
- State and Local Waste Reduction Organizations
- Farm Advisory Groups
- Local Landfill Operation
- Organized Public Groups
- Ecology Interest Groups
- Local Colleges and Universities
- Master Gardeners
- Botanical Gardens
- Active Citizens
- Immediate Vicinity Neighbors
- Businesses as Potential Suppliers of Feedstock: Landscapers, etc.
- Businesses as Potential Users of Finished Product
Other Factors to Consider
- Involve the various groups at every stage to avoid being overwhelmed by issues arising late in the process.
- Emphasize the positive role a composting operation plays in the community. This helps to build good will and begins to develop market demand for the finished product.
- Establish odor hotlines and return ALL phone calls to concerned citizens. Refer the odor complaint phone calls to the appropriate local enforcement agencies for investigation.
- Provide local schools with educational materials to introduce teachers and children to the benefits of composting.
- Conduct workshops and open house forums. Give-away free product occasionally. The local citizens and the receiving gardens will respond very favorably.
- Conduct public information meetings to give people a chance to voice concerns and get answers.
- Respond to community input promptly so that the public does not become frustrated by feeling “unheard”.
- Place articles in local newspapers to help set the stage and build support for the benefits compost and a composting operation provide to the community.
- Maintain a website with site information, including permitting, public meetings, environmental reports, merits of compost. The website should include informative links to technical articles, local governing officials’ web site addresses and how to report an odor or other concern.