Wednesday, March 4, 2015

City Hall Compost

After 5 years of operations, the City Hall Compost has officially closed.
Goodnight, sweet prince
In the Spring of 2009, an enthusiastic employee at City Hall approached Waste Management Services with a great idea. She asked for advice about setting up vermicomposting at her building.  It was a great initiative, and we agreed to provide support and act as consultants.

After months of planning and coordination, the City Hall officially started worm composting in late 2009.

Staff at City Hall set aside food scraps in buckets at their office kitchens. Custodial staff were crucial to the compost operations as they collected the food scraps and delivered it to the compost (instead of the garbage). They deserve special recognition for their efforts.

The City Hall Compost became an important educational tool showcasing one method of composting for a building. Students with City Hall School regularly visited the system to learn about composting and see the bin in action. Twice, students (and Councillors) also helped harvest the finished compost.

The City Hall Compost was open for viewing. We know that many visitors stopped by the system to see how it worked. Some were Edmonton residents, but visitors also came from across Canada and around the world. Folks at the Information Centre provided a one-page fact sheet about the City Hall Compost.

Mark, with kids from City Hall School
Composting for a full building presented many challenges along the way. So the City Hall Compost became a strong learning experience.

The system started as a single worm bin. City Hall allocated space for the bin, and Waste Management Services created storage for tools and space for an on-going supply of "browns" (mostly bags of dried leaves). Security was consulted to ensure it was a safe space for visitors and volunteers.

The worm bin system could not handle the volume of food waste, especially in those early days. So we had to resolve problems with smells and critters.

A tumbler was added in 2011. Tumblers are generally designed for outdoors, but this was added as a first-stage of composting the food scraps. Once the tumbler was full, the semi-processed waste was moved to the worm bin to be finished. This two-stage system produced excellent finished compost.

We found that the tumbler was always damp, despite best efforts. The enclosed chamber had few vents for air and the location didn't get outdoor drafts that would reduce moisture. Gnats (Sciaridae) seemed to love it. Adding browns, browns, and more browns was the best solution.

Collecting the food scraps was an interesting hurdle. Mark found crafty ways to make it easier and easier for custodial staff to collect food scraps and deliver them to the City Hall Compost. This was an important step, as this task was outside of their usual routine.
Master Composter Recyclers played an important role maintaining the City Hall Compost. Volunteers regularly visited the site to keep it active and tended. MCRs also kept it clean and inviting. Since 2009, 26 MCRs have volunteered over 220 hours to tidy, tumble, feed, water, and harvest the compost.

City Hall Compost's successes are largely due to the volunteering of MCRs. We all appreciate the enthusiasm and commitment MCRs brought to this project.

Operating any composting system means addressing myths about composting (e.g. odours, goo, critters). We reach everyone according to their interests and perceptions, and demonstrate the process of active composting and the success of finished compost.

Staff at City Hall decided in January 2015 that the City Hall Compost no longer fit their needs. The folks who started this project and championed it to other staff have since moved on. Waste Management Services - and MCRs - have diligently addressed issues as they came up, but City Hall staff had on-going concerns about gnats and fruit flies. The decision was made to remove the City Hall Compost.

We are sad that the project has ended, but the City Hall Compost was an good all-round learning experience. Waste Management Services looks for new sites to demonstrate composting. Stay tuned!

- Rodney Al, MCR Program Coordinator
  Waste Management Services, City of Edmonton


  1. It is so sad but if a system is no longer working it too becomes a "waste " product and the energy and time used to upkeep it is better utilized elsewhere.

  2. It's such an emotional blog and really what a pity to know that the system has ended.