Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson Five: Backyard Composting

Over the next two months I will be sharing my experience with the Edmonton Master Composter-Recycler Program. Maybe it will inspire somebody to learn more about composting. Maybe a few people will discover more about recycling. Perhaps more than one reader will find something here that they can take away and use in their own community.

20130315-145041.jpg

Backyard composting is a great way to reduce your environmental footprint while benefiting from a nutritious end product. Compost is to your garden what food is to your family – a source of wholesome nourishment.

There are two basic rules to backyard composting: it should be easy and it should be fun.

In composting there are five things that we can control:

Materials – greens and browns
Aeration – getting oxygen to the organisms doing all the work
Hydration – how wet the compost is
Surface Area – smaller bits of compost have more surface exposure
Volume & Location – how large and where in the yard

Greens are fresh and full of nitrogen, while browns are dry and carbon-rich. The balance of greens to browns in the composter should be 1:1 by volume.image

Greens: fruit peels and cores, veg scraps, weeds, plants, coffe grounds, animal manure (herbivores only)
Browns: brown leaves, dead plants, hay and straw, peat moss, tissue and paper towels, dryer lint, wood chips, cones, sawdust, coffee filters
Minerals: egg shells, soil, perlite, vermiculite, wood ash
No: meat and animal products, fats and dairy products, pet litter, cat and dog feces, diapers, diseased plants, seeds, barbecue ashes and coal

Aeration reduces odors; use a pitchfork, compost aerator, a perforated pipe or add course materials.

Moisture speeds decomposition; compost must be kept moist and monitored weekly. Add moisture with a hose, a watering can, rain or aquarium water or by adding more greens. Hydrate slowly to avoid leaching the nutrients (particularly phosphorus) into the ground. Compost should be as wet as a wrung out sponge.

Surface area exposes more bacteria to the material; shredding or chopping material will help it decompose faster.

The ideal size for a compost pile is 1 cubic meter to 1.5 cubic meter. Locate it somewhere convenient where it will be well-drained, sunny and sheltered.

Thanks to:
Mark Stumpf-Allen, Composting Programs Coordinator City of Edmonton

Advertisements

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson Three: Grasscycling

Over the next two months I will be sharing my experience with the Edmonton Master Composter-Recycler Program. Maybe it will inspire somebody to learn more about composting. Maybe a few people will discover more about recycling. Perhaps more than one reader will find something here that they can take away and use in their own community.

I haven’t bagged my lawn clippings since I can remember. I never understood why anybody would go through the trouble and mess to collect the grass when it could be left on the lawn to feed the soil. In the fall I collect a combination of grass and leaves to use as a protective mulch on my flowerbeds, but other than that I don’t use the bag on my mower at all.

Grasscycling is one of the least complicated things Edmontonians can do to reduce waste.

image

In the summer months 40-50% of all household waste picked up curbside is grass clippings. Yes, it is composted at our Composting Facility, but transporting to the facility is a huge drain on resources. Bags of grass are heavy, dense and take up space in the truck – trucks fill up faster and need to make more trips to the waste management facility. In addition, the volume of grass overloads the compost system throwing off the balance of nitrogen and carbon rich materials. Leaving it in situ, that is on the lawn, is a much more efficient and environmentally sound practice.

So how does one go about grasscycling? It’s easy. Any lawnmower can be used. Simply cut your lawn at a height of 2.5-3 inches every 4-5 days during peak growing season. Cut it high and cut it dry. The time you save collecting clippings will easily make up for a few more cuttings during the summer months.

Leaving clippings on the lawn improves the lawn’s ability to retain moisture and provides much needed nitrogen and other micro-nutrients to the soil. It’s a win-win situation. It’s one of those things that doesn’t demand over-thinking. If anything, it requires under-thinking.

VIDEO: City of Edmonton Grasscycling

Special thanks to this week’s guest instructors:

Mary-Jo Gurba-Flanagan: Graduate of the MCR program 2007
Pat Church & Myles Curry: Social Marketing, Waste Management Department – Designing campaigns to change people’s behavior

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson Two: Recycling

image

Over the next two months I will be sharing my experience with the Edmonton Master Composter-Recycler Program. Maybe it will inspire somebody to learn more about composting. Maybe a few people will discover more about recycling. Perhaps more than one reader will find something here that they can take away and use in their own community.

Know Before You Throw.

Edmonton started a blue box curbside recycling program back in 1988. In the early days people were asked to separate their recycling within the box, keeping paper at the bottom, glass to one side, tins to the other. Participation was voluntary but widely encouraged.

Collectors would fill bins in their truck with each of the various materials, but since paper was by far the most common item recycled the truck had to return to the waste management site each time it’s paper bin was full.

In 1999 the city changed to blue bag recycling. This allowed people to place any recyclable item in their designated blue bag and the sorting was done by waste management. Because it was simpler for the user, participation rates improved.20130311-132532.jpg

Edmontonians could also take their recyclables to community recycling depots where they would place their paper in one bin, their glass in another. Blue bins for multi-family dwellings appeared in 2002. Today 60% of apartment and condo buildings have blue bins for the use of their residents.

Of those items collected in bins, 70-75% is newsprint. Plastic, metal and glass containers only make up about 10% of recycling materials.

Whether picked up curbside or collected in bins, recyclables are transported to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre. Here the items are mechanically and manually sorted as follows:

Newsprint: Newspaper.
Cardboard: Corrugated cardboard boxes.
Paper: Anything that will “pulp”. This includes magazines, cereal boxes, egg cartons, office appears, envelopes, milk and juice cartons.
Plastics: All household plastic containers including
bags, bottles, containers, and milk jugs. Plastic food wrappers, cellophane, baggies, and other food packaging is generally not recyclable.
Juice boxes: Tetrapacks.
Glass: Jars and bottles only.
Pop and water bottles and cans: These are taken to a recycling depot for their refund value.
Metals: Aluminum pans/plates, metal cans (lids are ok if trapped inside).
Clothing and fabric: Denim and white cotton

One of the biggest problem they have at the MRF is that people put materials in their blue bags and bins that cannot be recycled. Items also need to be clean, dry and loosely packed.

There is much confusion about plastics. Basically plastics need to be larger than the palm of your hand and smaller than a basketball in order to be recycled. Anything made up of mixed materials (such as children’s toys) cannot be recycled.

Eco stations deal with our household hazardous waste including e-waste, TVs, paint, motor oil, tires, aerosol cans, appliances, car batteries, rugs and plastics toys.

Construction and demolition waste has its own special treatment. Wood is separated from asphalt shingles and drywall gypsum and each is recycled separately.

Don’t know what can and cannot be recycled? Go to http://www.edmonton.ca/reusedirectory where you can simply type in the item and it will tell you where to take it.

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson One: History of Waste Management

Over the next two months I will be sharing my experience with the Edmonton Master Composter-Recycler Program. Maybe it will inspire somebody to learn more about composting. Maybe a few people will discover more about recycling. Perhaps more than one reader will find something here that they can take away and use in their own community.

The history of waste management in the City of Edmonton is pretty interesting. Garbage has been picked up since the early part of the 20th century, but it was in the 1980s that the city realized that it had a problem with the amount of material going into landfill. The primary landfill at the time (Cloverbar) was filling up fast, and a new site had to be found and developed. A new way of managing the waste was necessary.
20130310-191537.jpg
Over the next 30 years significant changes were made to how we manage our waste: today 40% of household waste is composted, 15-20% is recycled and only 40% makes it to landfill. Biocomposting will reduce that figure to a mere 10% by 2015.

Our refuse is made up of a combination of residential and commercial materials (2/3) as well as construction and demolition waste (1/3).

Waste is collected is numerous ways: household garbage collection, household hazardous waste collection (Eco stations), recycling collection, assisted waste collection, big bin events, recycling depots, commercial waste collection and construction & demolition waste.

Materials brought to the Edmonton Waste Management Centre are separated at the Integrated Processing and Transfer Station in which both mechanical and manual sorting of garbage takes place. Residential and commercial waste is separated into four categories: organics for composting, waste for recycling, waste for landfill and waste for conversion to ethanol at the Waste-to-Biofuels Facility.

Anything deemed compostable is transferred to the Composting Facility, the largest of its kind in North America. More about that in a future blog.

Recyclables are handled at the Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Much of the sorting of recyclables is automated, but hands on sorting occurs here as well.

In addition, the Edmonton Waste Management Centre handles e-waste at the 45,000 square foot Global Electric and Electronic Processing (GEEP) Facility. They treat “garbage juice”, the liquid at the bottom of the landfill, at the Leachate Treatment Plant and gases at the Landfill Gas Recovery Facility.

The Biofuels Facility, which should be online by 2015, creates “refuse derived fuel” from inorganic materials such as fibres (clothing) and styrofoam, carpet, and plastics. Methanol and ethanol are produced from refuse which would otherwise be sent to landfill. This new facility adds a fourth R to waste management: Recovery.

13,000 people tour the Edmonton Waste Management Facility annually. Groups of 10 or more can arrange a tour by calling 780-496-6879.

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program 2013

“If you’ve seen one compost you’ve seen one compost”
– Mark Stumpf-Allen

Over the next two months I will be sharing my experience with the Edmonton Master Composter-Recycler Program. Maybe it will inspire somebody to learn more about composting. Maybe a few people will discover more about recycling. Perhaps more than one reader will find something here that they can take away and use in their own community.

20130310-092333.jpg

When I told my friends that I planned to take the City of Edmonton Master Composter-Recycler Program they teased me that I was finally getting my Masters Degree in something. I wish.

No, the course won’t give me extra letters to put behind my name. It will, however, give me a heck of a lot of knowledge about waste management and the ability to share that knowledge with the others.

The goal of the program is to train “ambassadors” for the city’s waste management department.  More than 700 Master Composters have been trained since the program began 20+ years ago. Graduates become volunteers trained in all aspects of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle, and commit to spending a minimum of 35 hours teaching others what they’ve learned through the program.

This year’s class consists of about 30 people from all over the city. On the first day of our 40 hour course we had an opportunity to introduce ourselves. We are a diverse group of people with all sorts of backgrounds. Some people had formal training in conservation biology and environmental studies. Many grew up on farms where sustainability was simply a part of their life. Some came from other countries where composting is (or isn’t) integrated into their native culture. Many of the participants have children and are interested in teaching them the importance of conservation practices.

Everyone seemed to be like-minded: making improvements to the way we reduce, reuse and recycle our waste is important to all of us. Maybe we all have different reasons to do so, but the goal is the same: help Edmonton become more sustainable in its waste practices.

We all want both the knowledge the course offers as well as to learn how to disseminate the information to others in our communities. Volunteerism brings together the most interesting people; I can tell already that this is going to be a great experience.

We have an amazing line-up of educators who will be working with us over the next several weeks in class, on tours and during hands on activities:

Rodney Al, coordinator of the composter-recycler program
Laura Henderson, assistant to the program
Garry Spotowski and Neil Burkard, education program coordinators for the waste management center
Mark Stumpf-Allen, compost programs coordinator
And
Allan Yee, waste management engineer

Feel free to follow along with me and my class, and don’t forget to ask lots of questions!

Seed Starter Pots From Toilet Paper Rolls: Upcycling

Last year I began using toilet paper cardboard rolls to make tiny seedling starter pots. They aren’t very fancy, but they also cost nothing and keep materials out of the landfill.

So this winter I saved all of my toilet rolls and came up with a fabulous collection of  seedling pots. My only regret is that I left them all in a big pile and had dozens to make all at once. Next winter I might be a little bit more proactive.

I’m happy to say I’ve got dozens ready to go.  It’s that time of year; I’ll be starting my peppers in about a week and my tomatoes the week after that.

From this...

From this…

To this...

To this…

To this

To this

For the Birds: Strands of Yarn for Nesting

I knit. A lot.

Anyone who knits will tell you there are many feet of leftovers – bits of yarn cut off from one end or another of a project and thrown in the trash.

I have a hard time throwing things in the trash.

I used to think that all of those little scraps of yarn really served no purpose, until I thought of the birds outside who might like a piece or two for their nest. That’s when I found a package of six grapevine balls that I could stuff full of yarn scraps. The six balls cost me $1. Now whenever I fill one up I give it to a friend to put in their backyard.

The birds can thank me by not eating my pea shoots this spring.

20130301-154018.jpg

20130301-154030.jpg

20130301-154503.jpg