Earth Week 2022: putting yard waste back to reuse

Earth Week 2022: putting yard waste back to reuse

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Shoveling leaves, piling mulch, and scooping up compost: these are all things you'll find at the South Bend Organic Resources facility.

The sign at the entrance of the facility, located at 4340 Trade Drive in South Bend

Although located just a few minutes from the South Bend International Airport, this center is somewhat of a hidden treasure.

I asked Eric Horvath, the Public Works Director for the city, if a lot of residents know about it.

"I think a lot of people don't," he told me. "They don't necessarily know about this facility and what happens on the back end that we have to do to make sure that we're putting together products that end up being able to be put back into the environment and reused, rather than put into landfill and wasted."

The facility is the landing spot for leaves, wood, grass clippings, and biosolids from the wastewater treatment plant. After being processed, the public can take new resources, like mulch, compost, or fertilizer, to use again in their yards or farms. Essentially, this facility celebrates Earth Day all year long.

"A lot of these things that people think are waste, can really be reused," Horvath said. "Any kind of organic resources, we should be able to find a way to put back to the earth."

Just how much of Earth's resources are we keeping out of landfill thanks to this facility?

"We process over 30 million pounds of material here, every single year," Horvath shared proudly.

With that much mulch and compost being produced, it's nonstop work at the facility.

After you drop leaves off at the facility, or once they make the trek to the facility after you put them in your yard waste bin, they're added to a huge compost pile of other yard waste.

Part of the giant pile of yard waste: this section is mostly a mix of grass and leaves

Workers at the facility turn the leaves and compost over from time to time. Composting is an aerobic process, so there needs to be a constant circulation of air in order for bacteria to break down the leaves. This organic process can create a lot of heat.

"You may even see steam coming off the piles," explained Horvath. "It gets up to 160 degrees."

The broken down material is put through screens to shake out any excess soils and trash.

Wait a minute... trash is definitely not organic. How does it end up at the organic resource facility?

"We do end up getting a lot of trash in the yard waste bins," Horvath said. "Sometimes it may be inadvertent, but a lot of times, people are doing it on purpose."

You can see the confusion: yard waste bins look similar to trash bins. Make sure to only fill these with organic material! City of South Bend

Horvath told me he's even seen things like old televisions arrive at the facility from the yard waste bins. Trash that is mixed in with yard waste can not only slow down the time it takes to compost, but it also leads to a lower quality end product for consumers to take home with them.

Any trash at the facility has to be sent to the landfill. You can help the process by making sure you don't put any trash into the yard waste bins.

The facility also does not accept any dirt, rocks, sand, or stumps, so keep those at home.

While I was touring the facility, we saw workers bring in the remnants of a tree that had fallen onto Portage Avenue. Woody waste, like fallen trees and branches, are turned into mulch that the public can buy.

Besides being reused by residents, you can also find some of this new mulch at city parks. Prices for purchasing mulch from the facility can be found here.

Hours at the facility, which is located at 4340 Trade Drive, are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. You can also pay to drop off materials during these hours.

Visitors getting ready to unload their materials at the facility

Residents from across the Michiana area are allowed to drop material off here; you don't have to be a South Bend city resident.

This facility also handles biosolids, which are processed from the wastewater treatment center.

"We're always looking for farmers close by to put the biosolids on their fields," Horvath mentioned. "It's free of charge for them, so it becomes a great asset for them."

Reusing these biosolids instead of other fertilizers saves local farmers money as they help put carbon and nitrogen back into their fields. If you're interested in this free program for your farm, you can contact the city by dialing 311.

As many of you are getting outdoors to start spring gardening and yard work, you can request an at-home yard waste container. This container is similar to a trash or recycling bin, but only for your leaves, grass clippings, and tree branches. You can find more information about how to request a container and the cost for pickup here.

Yard waste bins at the curb, waiting for pickup City of South Bend

If you haven't already used these services, starting now for Earth Day is a great way to give back to the planet, which makes Horvath and his team happy.

"Oh, it's great," he smiled. "That's what we're all about in public works. We're constantly looking at ways to make sure we're being great stewards of the resources we have."

Stay tuned on ABC57 News all Earth Week long for more ways you can help the environment.

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