Small municipalities in Massachusetts are tackling a huge question: How do you maintain a curbside composting program?

Thanks to a committed volunteer effort in Hamilton and Wenham, the towns are on the fast track to achieving zero waste. Hamilton has a population of around 8,000 while Wenham is home to about 5,000.

In Hamilton, residents receive free weekly organics and recycling pickups, and the town simplified the process by providing 13-gallon recycling bins for curbside pickup and a two-gallon bin people can use on their kitchen countertops, said Gretel Clark, chairwoman of the Hamilton Recycling Committee.

Clark said having a local composting operation, Brick Ends Farm, was paramount to the success of the program.

“Anybody who knows about establishing a recycling or organics program knows that if you don’t have a composter nearby, that’s probably going to make putting this program into effect very difficult,” she said.

Clark spoke during a presentation, “Where do we go from here? Reaching zero waste,” at MassRecycle’s 2012 Recycling & Organics Conference & Trade Show in Boxborough, Mass., last month.

To save time, the hauler uses a split-body truck for separating recyclables from organic materials, Clark said.

Solid waste pickup is done biweekly in Hamilton. Residents can place their trash on the curb free of charge as long as they don’t exceed the limits of the container. If they have more garbage than that, Clark said they have to buy blue trash bags for either $1.75 or $2, depending on the town.

During the initial pilot project with 74 households for organics collection three years ago, Hamilton said officials discovered that the solid waste yields were 10 pounds to 12 pounds lighter when organics were collected separately.

By paying the $40 per ton tipping fee on organics instead of the $70 for solid waste, the town could cut costs by 15% to 25%. The compost would otherwise fill the town’s landfill faster.

“It was just a matter of finding families who were willing to participate in pilot programs to prove to our town officials that this was doable and it would save the town money,” she said.

Neighboring communities now want to follow Hamilton’s example.

Ipswich is conducting a pilot project right now similar to Hamilton’s, and Beverly, Gloucester and Manchester officials want to know how Hamilton implemented the program, Clark said.

Edward Hsieh, executive director of MassRecycle, said Hamilton has taken the green effort and run with it.

He was impressed with how the town, which provides free compost to residents, returns the materials to people to use for their own household projects.

“I would definitely give Hamilton their props. They set a good example of how to handle organics on a local basis,” Hsieh said.

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