Denver recruits next wave of compost experts

City accepting applications for Master Composter Training Program

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Every year one environmentally-minded group of volunteers devotes a good deal of time to talking about composting. Between the 35 of them, they manage to spend more than 1,400 hours from May to October teaching the community how to reduce waste.

Denver Recycles and Denver Urban Gardens are currently accepting applications from Denverites interested in becoming one of these “master composters.” Of those applicants, 35 volunteers will be selected to participate in the program, which costs $40. The volunteers will also complete 40 hours of composting education. They will then serve as volunteers for the program’s 2019 outreach season.

During the six-month season, volunteers will teach public composting classes and participate in other educational events at farmers’ markets, community fairs and schools.

To become master composters, and teach the community, the volunteers will undergo 40 hours of instruction including classes, a full-day tour and two hands-on work days. These classes are designed to teach volunteers about the science of composting and waste management, as well as prepare them to teach similar classes to others.

Denver’s Master Composter Training Program has run for more than 20 years and is one of many such initiatives across the nation.

“It’s not totally unique to Denver, but I do think we’ve probably had one of the most consistently running programs,” said Charlotte Pitt, recycling program manager at Denver’s Solid Waste Management. Denver Recycles is a program of this branch.

Pitt added that the program is a “pretty intense commitment.”

“It is a fairly intense obligation on their part, also with the understanding that most of the outreach we do is on weekends,” Judy Elliott agreed. Elliot is the senior education specialist at Denver Urban Gardens and has taught the Master Composter Training Program for upwards of 20 years. Denver Urban Gardens is a nonprofit that supports community gardening in the city.

Elliott added that volunteers from past programs have always been up to the challenge. While the program only requires students to complete 40 hours of outreach, the 2018 volunteers completed an average of 49 hours, she said, with some completing close to 70 hours of service.

“It’s fascinating,” Pitt said. “We’ve gotten very few people who didn’t come out of the program like `whoa, that changed the way I feel about everything.’”

Elliott agreed, citing that many volunteers return year after year because of how much the class covers. The class has even made experts out of participants who had little to no prior composting experience, she said.

Those interested can contact Elliott at judy@dug.org or visit dug.org/master-composter for more information. Applications will be accepted through the end of January, with Elliott conducting interviews as applications are received. Classes will not begin until March.

“I’m definitely looking for community-minded people who have other contacts in the community, can work outside in all kinds of weather, and are willing to teach this practice to others in a non-judgmental teaching style,” Elliott said.

She added that anyone age 16 or older is welcome to apply. Over the years, her students have ranged from ages 18 to 83.

Composting in the community

Primarily, Elliott plans to enlist people who are not only passionate about composting, but who can excel in raising awareness about the practice throughout the community.

According to the State of Recycling in Colorado, the state is behind national averages when it comes to composting and recycling; while the nation diverts 35 percent of materials, Colorado only diverts 12 percent.

The report found that 37 percent of Colorado waste can be composted, 32 percent can be recycled and 26 percent can be recovered. However, while Coloradans generated more than 9.3 million tons of waste in 2017, they only recycled or diverted a little more than 1 million tons.

With the right equipment, anyone can compost in their own backyard, however, Denver also offers the Compost Collection Program, which helps residents to compost additional materials such as meat, bones and processed foods. To have their compost collected by the city through this program, participants must pay $29.25 per quarter. Residents can find information on what is compostable and how to use program materials at denvergov.org.

For further information on backyard composting, they can also attend the classes taught by the master composters. The free two-hour classes will begin in May, with the online signup process opening in April.

Pitt and Elliott both agreed that, because of these classes and the other outreach done by the master composters, composting in Denver has increased.

“I think the combination of all of our organics-based programs really has made the community more aware,” Pitt said.

As the programs increase awareness, Elliot said, this increase has in turn heightened the community’s need for the programs.

“I’m definitely seeing the elements of climate change exacerbate more of an interest,” she said. “People are asking `what can I do myself to provide for the health of my soil and the health of my planet?’”

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