Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson Four: Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting or worm composting is one of the easiest ways of ridding yourself of those kitchen scraps without sending them to the Edmonton Waste Management Facility.

I read Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof many years ago when I began my first worm bin while living in an apartment in Winnipeg. I didn’t have any place to compost on a large scale, so vermicomposting was my solution to reducing my waste.

I discovered that worms were voracious eaters and could multiply at a rate that would put rabbits to shame. My Rubbermaid bin of worms could go through almost four litres of kitchen waste per week.

Worm bin

Worm bin

Starting your own worm bin is an easy task.

What do you need?
A non-biodegradable bin that can be drilled with holes.
A lid for the bin.
Bedding material such as shredded newspaper or leaves, corncobs, or paper towels.
Food waste
Worms: usually red wigglers because they like shallow depth

Your bin should be about five times the size of your weekly volume of waste. A microwave size bin will handle an ice cream pail full of waste.

Begin by filling the bin with bedding material. Soak this with water for a few minutes and drain off the excess. Add some starting microbes by adding soil or compost. Add your food waste, burying it below the bedding. Add a handful of worms. It will take the worms three months to multiply to their maximum number, so initially be careful not to over feed them.

Feed them: vegetable scraps, tea bags, tea leaves, coffee grounds, dried out and crushed egg shells, fruit and fruit peelings, grains and nuts.

Don’t feed them: lots of fresh discards, meat and dairy, oily or salty foods, lots of one thing, quantities of yard waste, chemically treated items, non-biodegradable items, cat, dog or human feces.

Red wigglers

Red wigglers

To harvest worm castings you can use:
1. The side-to-side method. Simply move the old bedding to one side of your bin and add fresh material on the other. The worms will migrate to the new food source and you can harvest the completed material.
2. Bright light and scoop method. Shine a bright lamp on your bin and scoop castings from the top as the worms scurry for darkness.
3. The Sun-dried Method: Make piles of compost outside in the bright sunlight. The worms will work their way down to the bottom of the pile.

Castings can be used in potting soil (25% by volume), as a top dressing for perennials and annuals, or as a starter mix for seedlings (add an inch to the bottom of a transplant hole or seed row).

Special thanks to this weeks special instructors:
Christine Werk, MCR 2010
Hannah Heaton, MCR 2012

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson Seven: Waste Collection

Over the past month I have been 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.

John Borden, a Waste Inspector and former Waste Collector visited our class this week to speak about waste collection in Edmonton.image

If I were to sum up his talk in a short phrase I’d say, “Please be courteous and mindful of how dangerous your waste collector’s job is”.

There is a voluminous document that outlines the bylaws with respect to waste collection in the City of Edmonton. The goal of the Waste Management Bylaw 13777 is to keep collectors and the public safe from injury, exposure to contaminants and hazards. Their job is at best difficult and at worst downright dangerous. There are things that we can do to make it easier for the collectors to move quickly, safely and efficiently through their route each day.

imageKeep it Light

Waste containers should be no more than 100 litres, have solid handles and have a 20 kg max weight (44 lbs). Less is better, but the minimum size for a waste container is 60 litres. If you have an oversized container, don’t expect the collector to reach inside to remove recyclables or garbage.

Pack Sharp Objects
Broken glass, needles, shards of pottery, anything that can cause injury to collectors should not go in the garbage unless it is safely enclosed. Pack them and label the box so that the collector is aware of what’s inside. Don’t put broken glass or needles in a garbage bag where they may shift and injure the worker.

Don’t Overfill
Refuse should not be above the top of a garbage container. Not only can this create a mess, it makes it difficult for your collector to lift and empty the bin.

Bag the Loose Stuff
To keep the mess to a minimum, bag everything before placing it in your waste container. Double bag things like pet feces, cat litter or vacuum cleaner dust. Liquids should be labeled.

Let it Flow
Garbage should come out easily from your can; you can accomplish this by using bags. Better yet, forget the container and leave the bags in your collection area; they are easy to grab and toss into the trucks.

Keep it Clean
It’s surprising how many people leave their garbage in a manner that makes it difficult to reach or access. Keep the area around your garbage containers clean and safe for the workers. Garbage should be readily accessible (shoveled out, clear and safe path).

Containers cannot be lifted more than 15 cm over a lip or edge. This means that if you build an enclosure it should not require the collector to lift the bags or container a significant amount to pull it out. To see the ideal garbage stand, have a look here.

A good design

A good design

Collection for households is now weekly, with both recycling and garbage collected on the same day.

The city also has assisted waste collection for those who have disabilities or difficulties getting their waste to the curb.

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson Six: Eco Stations and Household Hazardous Waste

Over the past month I have been 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.

Eco Station

Eco Station

Edmonton began holding city household toxic roundups in 1987. People could drop off their hazardous household waste at select locations around the city. They were three day events, once yearly, and continued until 1994.

Out of a demand for more regular service, the City began planning for a permanent solution. In August 1995 the first Eco Station was opened in Strathcona; 26,350 vehicles visited in 1996 alone. In December 1999 the City opened its second station at Coronation.

By 2006 more than 130,000 vehicles were visiting the Eco Stations and it was time to open a third at Ambleside. Ambleside features a reuse area where staff can place items that they feel others might use, like furniture or electronics in good condition. In 2014 our fourth Eco Station will open near the elvedere transit station (Kennedale).

Eco Stations provide a safe means of disposing of hazardous materials that may cause fire, injury or health concerns. It also keeps these materials out of landfill and therefore the environment.

Inside the Eco Station

Inside the Eco Station

Hazardous waste includes chemicals, metals, electronics, appliances, batteries, fluorescent tubes, tires, and paint. Recyclables are also accepted at Eco Stations as well as large bulky items, small appliances, lawn clippings and many other items. If you’re not sure about what goes where, check out this link.

Paint comes in large volumes into the station. They have a paint exchange program where people can drop off or pick up partial cans of paints. Some paints are mixed and now are available for sale in shops as “ecopaint”.

Chemicals are packed in drums and sent to contractors who further recycle or incinerate them. Oils can be mixed and used as a burner fuel or in asphalt. Tires are used in rubber paving stones and to make livestock mattresses. Metals in computer components get extracted and reused.

Eco Stations don’t accept explosives, radioactive waste, pressurized gases or anything dangerous to handle.

Now over 220,000 vehicles visit Eco Stations each year. They are successful because they are convenient, comprehensive and affordable.

Thank you: This week we were visited by Jenna from the Coronation Eco Station

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program: Touring the Reuse Centre

Over the past month I have been 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.


When I heard we were going to visit the Reuse Centre at 103A Avenue and 100th Street, I was excited. Believe it or not, I’d never been there before – which is surprising given how much I’m into reuse.

We were met by Hayley Orton, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Centre. It’s her job to coordinate the hundreds of people who help keep the place organized and running (last year 400 volunteers donated 4000 hours of time sorting items that come into the shop).

Hayley explained how donated items, simple things like balls of yarn and milk jug lids, get weighed when they are brought in. They are sorted by teams of volunteers who separate items and put them out in bins for people to buy.

Video: Reuse Centre

Customers pay $5 to purchase as much as they like at any one visit. The goal isn’t to make a huge amount of cash, its to keep these items from going into the waste stream. As things leave the Centre they are weighed again in an effort to keep track of how much material is kept out of the waste system. Last year they took in a whopping 142.3 tonnes and sold 107 tonnes.

The Centre is popular among teachers, daycare workers, children and crafters. There are materials to keep busy minds occupied and stimulate creativity, all at a reasonable price.

The Reuse Centre has a relationship with Goodwill Industries: sometimes they will get items that they cannot use, like clothing or toys, and those items get sent to Goodwill. In return, Goodwill sends over any items that the Reuse Centre has a need for.

Over the years they’ve determined which items are most requested, and this list determines what items are accepted for donation. They don’t accept electronics, household items (knick knacks), toys or things that are accepted typically at other institutions in the city. They aren’t in competition with other types of reuse facilities like the Habitat for Humanity ReStore or Value Village.

The Reuse Centre grew out of the popularity of reuse fairs which in turn originated in the 1980’s as garbage fairs. Many communities still hold reuse fairs as a means to support the Reuse Centre or their own community members and organizations.

So, I know, you’re wondering about that microwave you want to donate. Where do you take it? Well, the cool thing is that there’s a website to answer that question. Just go to www.edmonton.ca/reusedirectory where you can type in an item and it’ll tell you where in the city that item is accepted.



Special thanks to two volunteers who assisted with our tour:
Trudy Papsdorf – volunteer at the reuse centre, MCR 1996
Hetal Patel – volunteer at reuse cente, MCR 2012

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program: Touring the Edmonton Waste Management Centre

Over the past month I have been 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’m not sure how to even begin to describe the Edmonton Waste Management Centre (EWMC). Situated on the eastern edge of the city, it encompasses over 80 acres of land adjacent to the now-closed Cloverbar Landfill.

Developed in the 1980’s as a solution to the need for more landfill, the today’s EWMC is a testament to the forward-thinking minds of that time. It’s a marvel of efficiency and tribute to problem solving.

Only one group gets the “full monty” tour of the EWMC and that’s the Master Composer-Recycler class. We were privileged to see everything from the tipping floor of the Materials Recovery Centre to the bowels of the Leachate Treatment Plant.

Integrated Transfer and Processing Facility

Integrated Transfer and Processing Facility

Dressed in our hard hats and steel-toed boots, our first stop was at the Integrated Processing and Transfer Facility (IPTF). This is where our garbage arrives to be sorted into waste and compostables. A surprisingly large amount of material in the garbage can be sent to the Composting Facility and kept out of landfill. Still more can be sent to the Waste to Biofuels Facility which should be fully operational by 2015.

A combination of mechanical and manual sorting separates (essentially) the organics from the inorganics. Waste destined for landfill is then trucked to the West Edmonton Landfill or the site at Riley. Organics are sent to the Composting Facility.

The Edmonton Composting Facility is capable of producing as much as 80,000 tonnes of compost annually. Organics from our garbage are combined with wood chips and sewage biosolids (yes, those are what you think they are) and composted to produce a high quality mixture that can be applied to fields or used in landscaping. Second Nature compost is sold at several locations in the city.

What I learned about large scale composting is that although we should be proud to have such a facility, its definitely not the most efficient way to deal with organic materials. Transporting it to the EWMC, putting it through a 14-21 day indoor mass bed process, then curing it in big windrows outside is very labour and resource intensive.

Backyard Composting, worm composting and grasscycling at our own home is far more efficient and environmentally responsible.

So much garbage

So much garbage

Rodney hams it up at the MRF

Rodney hams it up at the MRF

The other stream of materials coming into the EWMC are the recyclables – the materials collected in the blue bags and blue bins. They are taken to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where they are sorted, again both mechanically and manually, into various categories. This part of the tour was eye opening. It’s amazing how much plastic and paper we use in the city, and how much energy it takes to recover it for recycling.

The best way to keep these sorts of items out of the system is to reduce consumption in the first place. That means doing things such as bringing cloth shopping bags to the grocery store, or reading the newspaper online. Recycling is admirable, but its not the most efficient use of resources.


Leachate Treatment

Our tour also allowed us in inside the Leachate Treatment Plant where the liquids extracted from the landfill, treated and released into the sanitary sewer system.

We saw how construction and demolition waste is handled at the EWMC, separating the drywall from the wood, concrete and shingles so that each an be appropriately treated.

We drove by the Grey’s Paper and Glass Recycling Facility which will soon by producing recycled paper from waste paper collected at City offices. This will be sold back to the City, “closing the loop” with respect to paper use. Pretty cool idea.

We also drove by Global Electric and Electronic Processing (GEEP) where your TVs, computer monitors and other electronics are salvaged for their valuable components.

Overall the tour was amazing. We got to see just how much thought is put into waste management in the city. All of this recovery is costly, but not nearly as costly as landfill. Properly managed landfill is expensive and should be our last resort when dealing with our waste. By 2015 when the waste-to-biofuels facility comes online we will only be sending 10% of our waste to landfill. That’s incredibly impressive.

You can book your own tour of the EWMC by calling 780-496-6879.

Special thanks to our tour guides:
Allen Yee, Waste Management Engineer
Neil Burkard, Education Program Coordinator for the EWMC