Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Read on….you never know, you may learn something new!

After public displays we tend to have a list of questions which need to be answered. Here is our Q and A from Lunar New Year. Thanks to Garry and Myles for the wise responses!

Q: Why do light bulbs and batteries need to go to the Eco Station?
A: Fluorescent tubes and bulbs are the only light bulbs that are recycled but we request that all light bubs and light fixtures be taken to Eco Stations for two reasons:
1) The bits of glass and trace elements in the light bulbs bring down the quality of the compost made at the Composting Facility and
2) it's a simplified message - ALL light bulbs and lighting goes to Eco Stations.

Q: What is the best container for cooking oil disposal so that the grease goes to the composter?
A: Any plastic bottle with a screw-top lid, like the one the oil came in, would be best. It has to have some strength so as not to open easily when it's being compacted after the collector has put it into his truck. It likely won't be composted however because a larger container (1 litre or more) is likely to get sifted out from the organics stream and landfilled.

Q: How can we recycle caps and lids?
A: Caps and lids are garbage in our City of Edmonton program but some Bottle Depots collect the caps for charity as part of the “Caps Off” program. Proceeds raised through this initiative will help support the Rainbow Society of Alberta, an organization that grants wishes to Alberta children with chronic or life threatening illnesses. See website for more info.

Q: Can you recommend a bottle collection and donation program for an office?
A: "Empties to Winn" is the Winnifred Stewart program. There are probably others in Edmonton. Please comment if you know of other mentionable programs.

Q: How much does a mat made of recycled tires cost and where can it be purchased?
A: Unsure of the cost but you can get them from Champagne Editions among other places.

Q: We don’t want to buy blue bags but we would still like to recycle. Is this possible?
A: You do not need blue bags when you take recyclables to one of the 22 Recycle Depots in Edmonton. You can even recycle clothing at 16 of these depots! We will collect from blue boxes if people have them but we don't recommend them. Wind can blow contents out of the boxes and cause littering.

Thanks for taking these great questions from Edmontonians!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Who? Who? Who's new?

Just as we watched Karen Lewis-Carron ride into the sunset of retirement...
... a new sheriff rode into to town. How the heck did that happen?
Rodney Al is the newest employee of Waste Management Services, but he is not new to us.
Rodney graduated with the MCRP Class of 2008. Since then he helped build a multi-bin composter at the Campus Community Garden at the University of Alberta. He also took care of two worm composts at work and at school. Last September, he helped build a (much larger) multi-bin composter with the Edmonton Organic Growers' Guild.

Wanna see pictures?
Before starting with us, Rodney worked on lots of projects about Communities in Bloom. In fact, if you know those yellow Front Yards in Bloom signs, then you know Rodney's projects.

More crazy stuff about Rodney:
  • librarian
  • Edmontonian since 2000
  • got married last February, outdoors, in -26C
  • loves skiing, running, racewalking and the mountains
  • owns a cute dog - Ruby Thursday
  • speaks a little French and Dutch, and loves to practice
  • monthly waste goal: <1 grocery bag in the garbage can 
"I've been the in bloom guy for 5 years. So I am happy to become a worm-guy, a recycle guy, and a compost guy. Sadly, Garry has already earn the title of Garbage Guy. ... Darn it. He beat me to it."

We are hunting for a funny nickname for Rodney. What do you suggest?
Post a suggestion here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Nature Mill at work in our kitchen!

Laura is showing off our new Nature Mill.

Volunteers at trade show have heard from home owners that this machine is an easy way to compost indoors, and our staff here in Centruy Place has been trying to come up with an easy way for everyone to reduce waste, so we are giving this a try. Yes, it is certainly easy - no collection pail; no carrying outside or burying; no bin or soil required; no muss; no fuss. Actually, it does require some knowledge and has its limitations, but it's certainly a useful tool and fills a niche in our waste reduction strategies.

At the end of the first week, the collection chamber is full and the Mill is purring away, warming up the material and occasionally turning the mix to keep it fresh. If it jams on a banana stem or apple core it will un-jam itself (this has not happened, but is good to know).

The heat speeds up the process, kills fruit flies, and allows us to add meat and dairy, which would bring odours to other composting systems. It can be used outdoors, but I think we might want to test it in our -30 temperatures (when they get here).

Even though many of us in the office have a lot of composting experience, it is fascinating to note the differences between this system, vermiculture, and backyard composting.

We will bring it with us to upcoming events (POT LUCK on the 25th!), but you can certainly drop by anytime for a cup of tea and to see the Nature Mill in action.

See you soon,

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Helping a school start composing

Here is a conversation I a had with a teacher who wants to start a composting program. Personal mentoring from a Master Composter was not possible, since the school is out of town, but if you are interested in helping a group start composting you may find this interesting...

I'm a teacher at Esterhazy high school in Saskatchewan and was just wondering if I could be given a few tips on the type of compost bin I should build for my school. I thought it would be good to ask you as you seem to have a lot of information available on your website. I was looking through the document that you had on the website for types of compost bins to use. Could you give me advice on what to use in Saskatchewan as a home economics teacher?

Thanks, Kara

Hi Kara. Thanks for your call about our Composting Bins You Can Build Booklet. I am happy to help you find the composting method that works best for you and your students.

I have to start with a few questions:

What is your input - is it simply scraps from Home Ec class, or will lunch waste or cafeteria waste also be included? The first step in starting to compost is a waste audit, where you collect everything you have for a week and get a rough idea of its ratio of brown to green (C:N) and its volume.

How will waste be collected? If only classroom waste is collected it will be easy to control, but on a larger scale there is an education campaign to plan, plus ongoing monitoring of use and troubleshooting.

Who is maintaining the composting systems? How often, and what about the summertime? This is a major issue because if one person fails to meet their responsibility everyone will be impacted.

What method or type of bin will you choose? I like to leave this up to the people doing the work as it give them ownership of the project and they can switch things up for a new challenge. Some methods are lots of work and no monitoring (trench composting), while others are little work but lots of monitoring (tumbling), and others are in between. All are great learning opportunities.

A bin can be constructed of any long lasting material. Whatever you have laying around can be repurposed to hold waste, as long as it lets a bit of air in (but not too much), is between 1m and 1.5m high, and takes advantage of solar gain.

A high school is a great place to ask for unique ideas for bins. You might get some interesting suggestions, like basketball back-boards, or car doors (let air in by rolling down the window), or bus tires and binders... Teams could have 1hr to build it and the students can vote a design winner, teamwork, compost performance, etc.

I have seen some high-school and college level bins that look great, but are not suitable for the purpose or location and end up becoming a home to wasps, or magpie magnet. A bit of fore-thought will make this a very rewarding project.

I think that is all for now. I am anxious to hear where you are at and discuss options. Composting is not an entry-level waste reduction initiative (not as easy as changing a light bulb), but it is one of the most rewarding.


Hi! Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. To answer your questions: It would be mostly Home Ec. scraps for the time being as I am the one introducing this to the school. As time goes on we may introduce more from other sources. I haven't done an audit but I'm fairly certain we would have a higher green ratio than brown. Could I fix this by adding shredded newspaper and other things?

Compost will be collected in designated bins in my classroom. In the summer it would be likely that the caretakers could monitor the compost bins but I was hoping for an option that did not require much more than weekly monitoring. I have asked the I.A. teacher to have his work experience class create a compost bin that would work well in the courtyard of the school or behind the school (either way it would be placed on top of grass or soil).

The type of bin I choose... well, I was hoping that you could give me some input on that front!

Could you give me a bit of advice?

Thanks, KD

In that case, I would choose a black plastic unit, with small air holes, located in full sun and sheltered from wind. Shredded newspaper, autumn leaves, animal bedding, paper hand towels, and soil are good browns to balance things out. You might also ask students to chop green pieces small to increase the rate of decomposition and reduce odours.

The Earth Machine is a good unit for your purpose - durable and affordable and less likely to be taken when your back is turned. Your municipality may have a compost subsidy program, or a nearby business may be willing to provide the unit in exchange for a bit of advertising.

A wood bin will be a bit more work to keep moist, but if you paint it a dark colour and keep the air holes small and near the bottom It could work well for you. Consider clamping two opposite corners so the unit may come apart into easily managed pieces to make troubleshooting and harvesting easier. Wood lids are more cumbersome as well. The big benefit to having students build the bin is ownership and reduced vandalism.

I think is a good idea to have the caretaker involved in the bin selection as well, to gain their goodwill.

Thanks a lot! This helps a ton. -KD

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


I have a few ideas for New Year's Resolutions but which to choose...
Option One - UN-DRIVE, to encourage us to walk to work more often (not just on car-free day), and go for a walk after dinner instead of spreading out in front of NetFlix. This should be good for the waste line!
Option Two - GO WILD!, and go crazy with the native plants we include around the yard. I admit to having a pretty brown thumb when it comes to natives plants, so it will be a learning curve, for sure.
Option Three - GROW A ROW, and dedicate available land to food production. This comes at a time when the city is developing food sustainability policy, so we can help understand food issues while contributing to Edmonton's sustainability.
Option Four - HORDE, the city is talking about reduced rates for low-volume waste collection, so we are considering keeping all our garbage in the garage until Jan 2013 and see how much our little household produces in one year, including what we take to the Reuse Centre. This will mean having to clean out the garage eventually, so even though it means not taking out the garbage, it could be a lot more work that it sounds.

So, help me out. Have you tried any of these? Which will have the biggest positive impact.

VOTE for your choices in the poll on the right!

Meet the Earth Tub

image from http://solanacompost.wordpress.com/2008/11/06/master-composters-at-deer-park-monastery/

This may be a solution for a campus, a co-housing community, a business cooperative, or a small town. When you look at the cost of transporting wet waste to a centralized facility, the Earth Tub could pay for itself in no time.

It is a bit of work to maintain (more than the City Hall system) but can handle a whole lot of waste material and stay relatively worry free. Trouble is, just like a tumbler, what do you do when the unit is full? Their web site says it is continuous up to 20kg of food waste per day.

If you know anyone who has one, please let me know and I will try to arrange a tour.

details at http://www.compostingtechnology.com/invesselsystems/earthtub/
watch the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtdKT26x7Uk (interesting part starts at 4 min 20 sec)

Sunday, January 1, 2012