Graduation! Gardeninggrrl is now a Master Composter/Recycler

Counsellor Ben Henderson, Waste Management's Bud Latta, and Graduate

Counsellor Ben Henderson, Waste Management’s Bud Latta, and Graduate Gardeninggrrl

Last week my class of Edmonton Master Composter/Recyclers graduated from the 2013 City of Edmonton’s MCR program.

A like-minded group of 28 waste conscious Edmontonians, we spent 40 hours in class and at various sites around the city learning everything and anything about reducing waste, recycling and reuse.

Our job is to now disseminate this wealth of knowledge by sharing it with our friends, families and communities. My plan is to work to educate people about the benefits of grasscycling, composting and overall reduction of materials that needn’t go to the Edmonton Waste Management Centre.

I’ve already worked the Waste Management booth at one event and have another one scheduled for tonight. It is, after all, International Compost Awareness Week! It’s practically a religious holiday for Master Composters 🙏

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 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

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.


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

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson Two: Recycling


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 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.
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.


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
Allan Yee, waste management engineer

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