ANDERSONVILLE — Composting isn't just for Californians. The eco-friendly way to convert organic "trash" into usable fertilizer has won over some North Siders — but theft and a lack of compost understanding has created some problems.
Andersonville's pilot neighborhood compost program is the first of its kind in Chicago and launched October 19. Already, however, 30 composting bins have been either stolen or mistaken for garbage and thrown away, according to the Andersonville Development Corporation.
Brian Bonanno, the community group's sustainability programs manager, said some of the bins have been thrown away by landlords "who didn't know exactly what they are." Others have been hoarded by participants who "take the buckets and assume they are for their own compost farms," he said.
Andersonville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ellen Shepard pointed out that though the bins are "clearly marked with stencils and labels explaining that they are not garbage, they have been very popular," and some people have stolen them from alleys.
Bonnano even caught a neighbor with five buckets and asked him about it, he said — and the neighbor told him "the guy in charge of the program said he could do it," according to Bonanno, who is actually "the guy in charge of the program."
For a weekly $3 fee, participants can collect organic waste such as eggshells, coffee grounds, and bits of fruit and vegetables in five-gallon bins provided by the Andersonville Development Corporation. About 80 residencies signed up to participate in the compost program, which launched in October and has produced an estimated 710 pounds of food scraps a week, according to Bonanno.
A non-profit recycling center, the Resource Center of Chicago, collects the food scraps, takes them to its composting facility in Greater Grand Crossing and then distributes the finished compost between two urban farms in Cabrini Green and in Englewood. Some the produce grown there is used by award-winning chef Rick Bayless at his Chicago restaurants.
Bonanno said educating community members about the program could help solve the bin problem, as well as possibly swapping out multiple bins for larger shared compost dumping stations that are less likely to be carried off.
Since Andersonville is the first neighborhood in Chicago to run a program like this, Shepard said they "are also the first to have to iron out problems with the system."
Renee Patten suspects somebody made off with her bin on Monday.
The 24-year-old Andersonville resident and Huffpost Chicago transportation blogger said she put the bin in her alleyway that morning so the Resource Center could dump its contents and leave the bin for further use — but when she came back that evening it was gone.
It's still a bit of a mystery for her. The buckets, she hears, can be resold for $10-15.
She said that bringing in larger compost dumping stations sounds like a good plan.
"I think the bigger bin solution also makes it more official, it gives it a little more authority than having these little bins out back," she said.
Patten, who considers herself an environmental advocate and is thrilled with the program so far despite the snags, added that "any new environmental initiative needs a lot of education," to get the public acclimated.