Putnamville, Ind. - When officials at the Indiana State Farm in Putnamville contacted Laura M. Dellinger, they were in search of an inexpensive and easy way to get rid of waste. Dellinger, manager of Indiana's recycling program, suggested composting.

Her idea eventually became the first major prison-based composting project in Indiana.

The program, piloted by the Indiana State Farm, Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Byron Green of Green- Grow, is located on a three-acre stretch of state farm land. Green helped set up the facility by offering his advice and equipment free of charge.

Comprised of wood chips, leaves and sawdust from outside sources and paper, newspaper, cardboard, yard wastes, manure and used cow bedding from the site itself, the compost serves as a fertilizer for prison crop land. It is also used in the prison's horticulture department where inmates learn gardening and landscaping skills.

So far, Indiana officials have been reluctant to include meat scraps in the compost, fearing the buried wastes might generate offensive odors and attract animals. Green, however, is convinced that meat scraps could eventually be added to the compost mix, since scraps are currently being composted on a similar site in Pennsylvania.

Not only has the composting proven to be a clean, fast way to convert waste, but it is also cost-efficient. The prison's disposal bill reportedly dropped from $7,600 per month to an average of $4,500 per month since composting was included as part of the recycling program.

"This is a very progressive project," said Dellinger, who hopes other major state institutions, besides prisons, will adopt similar facilities. The project is managed and operated by Julie Smith, Jim McMahon and State Farm staff and offenders.