Yard trash used to help save citrus trees through Hillsborough County's composting program

Hillsborough County's Composting program uses the trash tossed out after cleaning the yard to help citrus growers find another way to save citrus trees. 

Bagged leaves, grass clippings and other yard trash combined with treated wastewater by-products from public utilities department are turned into compost by the Hillsborough County government. 

"We take yard waste from the residents. We have commercial [yard waste] that are dropped off at three locations around the county, and we have to get rid of it still. We have a contractor grind it for us," said manager Ron Wiesman of the Hillsborough County Solid Waste Management Department. "It's going to get recycled into the composting program, and that's going to leave here in 70 to 90 days."

A Lithia site holds almost four football fields of compost under a shelter for processing before it’s screened and sold to LifeSoils in Gainesville.

READ 'Stewards of the Earth': Tampa's Urban E-Recycling works to keep E-Waste out of landfills

"For me personally, I like to know that products going somewhere where it's getting used," said Wiesman.

Where the compost is being used includes citrus groves in Central Florida. Grower and nursery owner Tommy Thayer said they use compost to help trees struggling with citrus greening disease. 

"What compost does for us is gives that tree all the opportunity to actually pick up material," said Thayer, the owner of Southern Citrus Nursery in Dundee/Lake Wales area. "In general, it allows the plant to feed better and more efficiently."

READ Audubon Florida builds living shoreline to protect local critical wildlife coastline from erosion

Compost also helps growers cut back on expensive fertilizer right now.

"I know for a fact a lot of our growers right now because of the high fertilizer prices, especially with Russia now in the chaos we have. They're using more compost," said Thayer.

Thayer said his company gets shipments from LifeSoils, the same company that buys compost from Hillsborough County. Product developer Darren Midlane said the process closes the waste loop.

"A lot of these organic materials that we compost used to go into landfills years ago, so they would break down in a landfill and produce methane," said Midlane of LifeSoils and Harvest Quest.

READ Florida seeks 100% renewable electricity by 2050 under proposed rule

Instead of greenhouse gases, a new cycle forms with some help from the yard. Wiesman said the county’s composting program saves residents $500,000 to $600,000 a year.

"So, I think that's kind of a win-win for the earth and for the residents," said Wiesman.

Southern Citrus Nursery said buying compost can get expensive, but it does save money in the long run. Thayer said it helps citrus trees hold onto more fruit, so growers can sell more of it. 

Hillsborough County is giving away free compost bags to county residents Saturday, April 23, to help residents’ trees, lawns, and landscaping. The event is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Hillsborough Heights Solid Waste facility in Seffner. The address is 6209 County Road 579, Seffner FL.