No matter how "green" you aspire to be, the prospect of preventing another layer in a growing landfill is appealing. That's why most people like the idea of composting -- turning organic, biodegradable waste into a useful, rich soil.

But the commitment needed to turn trash into dirt makes most people, well, noncommittal. "I would never follow through on that," said Chanhassen resident Jamie Kendall about do-it-yourself composting. "I've got two little kids so to have the time and energy to compost on my own would be a lot."

However, using a garbage service that picks up biodegradable waste and delivers it to a site that produces and sells compost, she said, allows her to make a contribution to composting without the extra work.

Some trash haulers throughout the metro have started, or are considering, an organic pick-up service, and Carver County recently received a $100,000 grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to resume a pilot program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen.

"When you talk to recycling coordinators and solid waste managers in the area it's pretty universally accepted that organics is coming," said Carver County Environmental Specialist Marcus Zbinden. Minnesota's waste-diversion projects are stagnant, he said, and compost collection is one way to jump-start recycling programs.

Organic waste collected for a commercial hauler is more expansive than what is allowed in a home composting bin. Accepted waste includes waxed cardboard, frozen food boxes, napkins, paper towels, paper plates, parchment and waxed paper.

That adds up to a significant amount of trash for Kendall's family. "We have substantially cut down on garbage," she said. Kendall started composting through Carver County's pilot program, but when that was put on hold last fall she continued through a company called Organic Disposal, which offers commercial and residential service in parts of Carver and Scott counties. They deliver the organic waste to Creekside Soils in Hutchinson. "Now our garbage cart is half full each week, where before we couldn't close the bin," she said. In addition, "It's $11 cheaper a month."

Zbinden said organics make up 30 percent of the waste stream, which can be diverted to other uses. While it seems like a no-brainer on paper, sorting biodegradable material from recyclable material and trash is just step one.

Even the Arboretum will enlist the help of a contractor, Specialized Environmental Technologies Inc., to carry out the activities of the grant when it resumes composting next spring. "The Arboretum generates a lot of waste but we didn't have the time or equipment to mix the right amount of brown and green material, to turn the compost and screen it," said Peter Moe, director of operations at the Arboretum.

The initial pilot program, which began in 2007 with some 600 families, ended prematurely in 2009 when commercial refuse was added, causing odor issues. When the program resumes in the spring, at a different location on the Arboretum grounds, it will include new equipment to aerate the piles and prevent odor. The biggest change is that it will include only residential material.

"The purpose of our grant is to demonstrate that there is no environmental negative impact on ground water," Zbinden said. All of the water tests done during the initial pilot were comparable to drinking water standards, he said. The new grant will allow Carver County to continue its research and make a case for more compost sites.

"There is built-up demand for composting," Zbinden said. "The barrier is not having enough compost sites."

Kara Douglass Thom is a Chaska freelance writer.