By Cassie McClure
Published in Las Cruces Sun-News on 7/17/2022
When Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) picks up yard waste throughout the city with its Green Grappler, it becomes mulch that residents can pick up for free. Through the innovative experiment of a machine used to process dirt from other projects, the mulch is now better than ever, and residents have been rushing to get a bucketful at the Foothills Landfill Composting Facility (FLCF) at 555 Sonoma Ranch Blvd.
The flip screen machine was initially purchased to help LCU with two projects: separating trash from dirt in the pre-1965 landfill removal near Sonoma Ranch and reusing dirt from projects throughout the city. FLCF has been storing and separating construction debris from dirt – for example, when a pipe breaks and crews must dig up a portion of the street, which consists of water saturated soil along with asphalt and concrete. The crew will send the dug-up materials to be processed at FLCF. Crews then can pick up the processed material for reuse, saving money for LCU and the City of Las Cruces by not needing to buy material to fill holes.
The idea to use the flip screen was thanks to LCU Lead Equipment Operator Max Gonzalez who asked for a half-hour to use it and show LCU Route Supervisor Philip Glasson what it might do for the mulch. Glasson, who uses the mulch for his yard, came back to check on the processed mulch pile and requested that the crews go to work on the rest of the mulch.
“The flip screen has one-inch holes to process the mulch, making it finer by catching some of the bigger wood pieces and some trash as well,” he said. “Even if we pick up clear bags with the Green Grappler, our crew will examine to remove any trash that might have mistakenly landed in the yard waste. This is why we can’t pick up dark bags; we don’t know what’s in them, which can contaminate the mulch we’re giving back to the community even as we sort it.”
As part of LCU residential Solid Waste service, the Green Grappler can pick up an amount equal to two leveled half-ton pick-up truck loads or four cubic yards, equivalent to four 5’x3’x2’ adjacent piles. Any trees or branches need to be cut into pieces shorter than 5 feet in length and smaller than 5 inches in diameter. Larger loads may be scheduled for pick up for an additional charge and can be arranged by calling Customer Central at 575-541-2111.
Yard waste is chipped, piled up, watered, turned, and left in the sun to "cook" at temperatures above 131 degrees to destroy weed seeds and pathogens to make the compost useful for landscaping and gardening. The added water is from reclaimed water produced by the nearby LCU East Mesa Water Reclamation Facility.
Glasson explained, “We have plenty of repeat customers for the mulch. Residents use it for erosion control, plus adding ground cover saves moisture and helps their plants. Customers can request either the finer screened compost or the larger unscreened compost. If they want, they can request the larger material that we screen out as well. Our goal is to try and accommodate the customers’ needs as best as we can.”
The facility is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Residents are encouraged to take what they need, even filling up a pickup truck. If residents don’t have a truck, LCU recommends bringing buckets, and don’t forget a shovel and gloves.
LCU – Your Utility Connection. Customer Central can be reached at 575-541-2111 from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides clean, safe, and reliable services to Las Cruces residents and businesses. Learn more at: las-cruces.org/180/Utilities
For emergencies, call Dispatch at 526-0500.
PHOTO 1: LCU Heavy Equipment Operator Hector Lozoya shows the difference in the mulch, the before and after use of the flip screen, which is shown behind him.