Having your own compost pile is great, if you are already a gardener. You can divert a significant amount from the waste stream, put it in a corner of your yard, and it makes itself into a lovely pile of rich dirt. In the Okanagan this is complicated by the fact that you may need to water your food scraps for composting to take place (which sounds too much like gardening, something I suck at) and I’ve been told that the most effective compost comes from adding worms (now I’m responsible for pets – please recall what happened to the guppies).
However, I am always looking for ways to recycle and reduce my carbon footprint and it wasn’t until I spent six months in San Francisco that I realized what a brilliant thing municipal compost was.
I realized what a brilliant thing municipal compost was
Weekly pickup of compost is perfect. Even the food at the back of your fridge which is growing new life forms can wait a week (and on this time scale you don’t need to worry about your biodegradable bags degrading).
Composting expands the number of things you can “recycle”. Many of the things you cannot put in the recycle bin are eligible for municipal composting: Greasy pizza boxes and paper bags. Paper in the form of plates, napkins, tissues and paper towels. Cardboard rolls from paper towels and toilet paper. Cotton swabs with paper stems. Waxed cardboard and paper. Because it is ground up with wood chipping equipment, San Francisco will accept sticks, logs, and lumber up to four feet long and six inches wide.
The compost is delivered to Jepson Prairie Organics, an hour east of San Francisco in Vacaville. There the compost process is managed (preventing methane emission) and tested for metal and pathogens. You know that list of items you never add to compost? Bread, rice, dairy, meat, walnuts, orange peels, citrus peels, onions and garlic scraps and fruit pits can all go into San Francisco compost — active management ensures they are completely and safely broken down.
The majority of the costs of managing compost are paid for by the city, but the resulting dirt is marketed and sold under the names:
- Recology Premium Compost
- Super Organic Compost
- JPO Topsoil
- Ultra Potting Mix
Jepson Prairie Organics chemical analysis is so good they have a side business where you can bring a soil sample from your farm or garden into the company and pay to have it tested so they can tell you what nutrients are missing.
Does composting make a dent in your carbon footprint? Surprisingly, yes. When their compost-eligible trash goes to the landfill it creates methane, currently 19 megatons of methane per year in Canada. (Remember that landfill is cumulative, it’s not just your waste this year but last year and the year before that and…you get the gist).
Methane is bad because it is much more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide
Currently, with no plan to divert compostable materials, your waste slowly rots without enough oxygen, producing methane which then escapes into the atmosphere. It’s actually better to pump it out of the landfill and burn it (equivalent to flaring in the oil industry), than let it join the other greenhouse gases. BC’s 2016 legislation requires large landfills (>1000 tonnes methane/year) to install approved landfill gas capture systems with a capture rate target of 75%. Alternatively some landfills capture the methane and use it to produce electricity.
So I am not a natural composter (especially since we currently live in an apartment). I have failed my worms. But I am 100% behind municipal composting: methane is a low hanging fruit in the fight against climate change.
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About Kristy Dyer:
Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley clean energy firms before moving (happily!) to sunny Penticton. Comments to Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com