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Posts Tagged ‘compost’

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It all started with individuals making changes in their lives to avoid single-use plastic, then moved to small shops offering plastic-free shopping. Nothing wrong with that says the UK version of Wired, but what is really needed more is for large supermarket chains to get on board.

Nicole Kobie writes at Wired, “Plastic-free, zero-waste shops — which include Bulk Market and Harmless in London, and Refill Store in Truro, Cornwall — are a utopia for people looking to ditching single-use plastics, and have even inspired (or shamed) some larger retailers into following their lead and cutting down on packaging. …

“Using reusable containers has benefits; it avoids the environmental costs of manufacturing and disposing of single-use plastic packaging and reduces littering. [But] says Simon Aumônier, principal partner at Environmental Resources Management (ERM). ‘The issue is it’s not always as simple as that.’ … The overall environmental impact can be small compared to other choices, such as reducing meat consumption.

“Here’s how to make the most of shopping plastic-free, and why it matters what you buy, where you buy it, and how you carry it home.

“Plastic-free stores require shoppers to bring their own reusable containers (or buy them in-store) in which to ferry home their pasta, nuts and other dry goods.

Shunning single-use plastic means it doesn’t end up in landfill or choking a turtle. ‘Every time you use your own container, you’re cutting down the amount of plastic you would have been responsible for,’ says Clare Oxborrow, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“However, as with the plastic bag versus reusable tote debate, it matters what you use in place of the single-use plastic packaging, and how often you use it. …

” ‘Replacing a piece of single-use plastic packaging with a Tupperware container means you’ve got maybe ten times the material — therefore you need to reuse it maybe ten or 20 or 100 times before it’s a better solution in material consumption terms,’ says Aumônier. …

” ‘Glass and metal are more robust for the long term and can often then be recycled at the end of their life much more easily than plastic can,’ says Oxborrow. ‘Because of the way the system is set up, only about nine per cent of plastic ever made has been recycled. [We] have to stop using so much plastic in the first place.’ …

“There is a reason single-use plastic is used for packaging: it works. One study shows that cucumbers wrapped in plastic stay fresh for up to two weeks longer than ‘naked’ ones. And a cucumber that gets chucked in the compost bin is a waste of water and transport (and related emissions), regardless of how it was packaged. … Pasta, nuts and the like have a longer shelf-life, so are less likely to be wasted once brought home, and less likely to get damaged in store. …

“Biodegradable plastics are seen as one solution, but [Helen Bird, resource management specialist at WRAP] warns they aren’t necessarily as green as they may seem, as they also require fossil fuels to produce and often aren’t actually compostable. ‘To a large degree, the infrastructure that we have in place at the moment in the UK is not set up to make those plastics actually compost,’ she says – meaning they end up in landfill or are incinerated.

“Budgens in Thornton swapped paper for plastic bags on bread, Bird notes, but that led to problems as shoppers couldn’t see what they were buying. Sales slumped. … The supermarket has now found the right balance, with one store offering 1,700 plastic-free products, showing alternatives can be found.

“Plastic-free stores are usually locally-run businesses, and stock locally-produced food. While that has social benefits, whether local production has environmental benefits depends on the food in question. … How you get to the store also matters. If you’re walking or taking the bus to a local zero-waste store, you’re doing it right. …

“Local, simpler shopping doesn’t require a zero-waste store, of course — old-fashioned local butchers and greengrocers also fit the bill, though many high streets now lack them. ‘A lot of them shut down because they can’t compete with the supermarkets,’ notes Oxborrow. And that means we get into cars and drive to buy plastic-wrapped cucumbers instead. …

“Sarah Laidler, an analyst at the Carbon Trust, notes it’s best to buy locally grown and in-season, and to eat fruits and vegetables quickly so packaging isn’t required. ‘But vegetables don’t account for the bulk of carbon emissions in most people’s diets.’

“And then there’s processing. Those jars of dry beans and other ingredients are light to transport and easy to store, but require home cooking. …

Rather than try to calculate the merits of canned chickpeas versus dry, it makes more sense to make changes we know work, says Aumônier, such as only boiling the amount of water needed for a cup of tea and putting a lid on a saucepan to keep heat escaping.

” ‘These things can dramatically multiply the impact of the food and they’re easily overlooked.’ Laidler adds: ‘A key step Pepsi took to reduce the emissions of its Quaker Porridge Oats was to cook them more in the factory, so it was then cooked less at home.’ …

“And that’s the core issue at the heart of plastic-free stores: there are bigger changes we could make more easily. That doesn’t negate the positive impact of zero-waste shops, notes Bird, as they act as gateways to encouraging people to think when they shop — and they help shame larger supermarkets into action.

“Supermarkets are starting to clean up their act, albeit slowly. [It’s] better for everyone if the supermarkets themselves also change their practices, so the least amount of single-use plastic is used even for those who aren’t within striking distance of progressive shops in Dalston or Cornwall. ‘Ultimately we need to see the supermarkets embracing reuse culture,’ Bird says.” More at Wired, here.

You might be interested in etee, where I just bought a dish soap I’m testing to cut down on plastic bottles and the fossil-fuel consumption involved in transporting what is essentially a lot of water and only a little soap. And for coffee drinkers who compost, consider Dean’s Beans. However, you do need a really robust compost pile to break the bags down, we’ve found.

Part of the movement to bring your own containers to takeout restaurants or as a “doggy bag” after dining out is a shop is in Providence, RI.

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When in New York, I like to walk from the Upper West Side to Central Park in the morning. I often walk east on the West 101 Street path that goes past the Frederick Douglass Houses. On the right is a playground and a popular little swimming pool (three feet deep, lifeguards provided), and on the left is a big field for sports and an empty lot converted to a garden.

When the garden fence was open recently, I stopped in and talked to Jae the gardener, whose passion for growing and feeding people is an inspiration.

Jae says she used to overthink food shopping, experiencing a kind of paralysis in the market as she asked herself, Where was this fruit grown? Who grew this vegetable? Were they paid a fair wage? Were pesticides used?

But she found her calling when she started growing her own food. First she helped gardeners by learning to compost, and she is still crazy about the whole idea of composting. “That’s where I come from as a gardener. I love worms!”

A full-time volunteer, Jae is eager to show visitors around the converted tennis-court farm. The garden has been built on top of the court, starting with piles of compost. Although her partner organization, Project EATS, notes the garden is not an official production farm this year, Jae sells some produce in hopes of saving up to hire a Haitian neighbor as a full-time gardener at some point. (“I don’t speak Haitian, he doesn’t speak English, but we both speak Farm.”) She gives half to the partner organization.

Jae has a completely organic approach (no pesticides or herbicides), and she expresses a feeling of awe at how nature works without such interventions. She shows how Mother Nature has let her plants flourish despite the views of “schooled farmers” that there was inadequate sun in that space.

When I told Jae I come to the city to visit my sister, who has cancer, she said my sister should come enjoy the garden’s healing aura and should bless the plants by breathing out carbon dioxide to help them grow.

I left Jae hand-removing squash borer eggs. (“Look how symmetrically they are laid! Isn’t it beautiful?) As beautifully as those eggs are laid, she knows she has to destroy them to protect the squash plants. Follow Jae on Instagram, @growwithjae .

Jae’s partner organization describes its own mission thus: “Social inequalities lead to health inequalities and ill-being in our communities. They affect our access to fresh food, life expectancy, physical and mental well-being, quality of education, employment opportunities. income, and share of public resources. They shape our behavior and expectations, and what we perceive and believe is possible for our communities, our society, and us.

“To achieve its mission of a fair society, Project EATS is a neighborhood-based project that uses art, urban agriculture, partnerships, and social enterprise to sustainably produce and equitably distribute essential resources within and between our communities. Especially those where people live on working class and low-incomes.

“To do this, we bring diverse neighbors together to take agency over the use of land in their neighborhood, provide the infrastructures and support for a community to develop their resources into productive spaces. We share knowledge and skills that support the ability of people to turn these relationships and resources into sustainable social enterprises employing community residents and stimulating local economies.”

Note the happy sunflower, one of several that Jae rejoices in, especially as she was told there was not enough sun to make gardening worthwhile in that space.

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Providence resident Stewart Martin’s passion for science and art have informed his work to promote urban gardening and composting.

My husband and I have a compost pile in Massachusetts (with a naughty mystery squash reaching out to strangle our neighbor’s lilac), but we are not brave enough to compost food scraps as there are too many animals around. I think if I lived in Providence though, I’d try a food-composting service and reduce my contribution to landfills.

In a recent edition of ecoRI News, Abby Bora interviewed Stewart Martin, a Providence entrepreneur who has perfected the art of urban composting and now offers his skills to others through Providence GardenWorks.

“Martin and his wife, Adrienne Morris, moved to Providence 15 years ago from New York City.

They were looking for a yard and fresh air, along with the bustle of a city. Providence was the perfect place. …

“Martin and Morris decided to replace their shrubs and perennials with veggies. To grow his skills, Martin trained through multiple gardening and composting programs. He has earned numerous certifications, including becoming a tree steward with the Rhode Island Tree Council and a University of Rhode Island master gardener.

“Martin said that in the past 14 years, his family hasn’t contributed even a cup’s worth of food scrap to landfills.

“ ‘We’re throwing away gold,’ he said, when food scrap is casually discarded.

“Compost — recycled food scrap, among other organic ingredients — contains many necessary soil nutrients that are valuable in fighting soil depletion. When not composted, organic matter rots in landfills, creating heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as methane. …

“Providence GardenWorks provides installation and training to urban gardeners and composters. For his composting clients, Martin installs an outdoor, animal-proof compost machine, and teaches them how to use it. He also provides a stainless-steel food-scrap pail, carbon filters, aerator, and a full bag of shredded leaves to begin the composting process. After installation, he offers technical support over the phone, via e-mail and on-site for six months. …

“While local organizations are working toward better food-scrap management, Martin wishes the city of Providence would commit to initiatives like the food-scrap collection program run by the city of Berkeley, Calif. … ‘The myriad benefits are well documented and it’s not rocket science. No one has to reinvent the wheel here.’ ”

More at ecoRI News, here.

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Photo: CivilEats
The rooftop garden at Montreal’s Santropol Roulant, which has a Meals on Wheels program that addresses food waste.

Recent U.S. news stories suggest that Meals on Wheels in this country is about to lose some of its funding, but in Canada, the program for housebound residents has been growing and innovating for years. It now hopes to share its knowledge.

Meredith Bethune writes at CivilEats, “The rooftop garden at Santropol Roulant in Montreal looks like any other at first glance, with 40 self-watering containers and a small greenhouse lining the 1,500-square-foot rooftop. …

“Santropol Roulant—’the Rolling Santropol’ in French, is named after the café at which the founders previously worked. It was originally founded in 1995 to connect youth with seniors, and over the past 20 years it has expanded to include a Meals-on-Wheels food delivery program, a rooftop garden to grow food for those meals, including compost for the garden, a three-acre farm off site, and much more. …

“The Roulant’s Meals-on-Wheels program is staffed by volunteers who cook and deliver about 100 meals per day, five days a week to seniors and other local clients with a loss of autonomy….

“The power of waste reduction became an important part of the Roulant’s work in 2001, before it had established an agriculture program. Kitchen scraps were collected and delivered to a community garden, eventually reducing their waste by 40 percent. Three years later, the group began experimenting with urban farming techniques, growing produce for the kitchen in unused spaces like balconies, patios, and rooftops. …

“The Roulant also supports several collectives that use space in their building, including SantroVelo, a bike collective that began in 1996 as a place to store delivery bikes or fix flats. Today, the building houses beekeepers, worm composters, mushroom growers, and urban fruit-picking collectives, all of which function like autonomous teenagers: They live at home, but operate independently. …

“While the Roulant’s waste reduction methods have come a long way since in 2001—the vermicompost collective now hosts several long tables and towers of soil-making worms in the basement—they can’t compost every type of waste, particularly leftover cooked food and meals. The kitchen aims to prepare precisely as much food as they need to serve their clients each day, sometimes there are last-minute delivery cancellations and other mishaps.

“So in 2014, the Roulant began selling leftover products at what they call their ‘general store.’ … No one staffs the general store. Instead, the Roulant posts a price list and a cash box for customers to make change, and they haven’t lost any money yet. Though this new program generates some extra revenue for the organization, its main purpose is waste reduction.

“Through innovative solutions like the general store … Santropol Roulant is trying to reduce waste as much as possible. They also want to share these strategies with other Meals-on-Wheels programs around North America.”  More here.

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In Massachusetts, large facilities are complying with a food-waste ban, creating many green jobs and boosting economic activity.

EcoRi News reports, “The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently issued a report which found that the state’s commercial food waste ban has created more than 900 jobs and stimulated $175 million in economic activity during its first two years.

“Implemented in 2014, the nation’s first food scrap and organics ban requires any commercial organization that disposes of a ton or more of food scrap a week to pull it out of the waste stream and reuse it, send it for composting or animal feed operations, or use it in an anaerobic digestion facility that produces renewable energy.

“The report, conducted by ICF International Inc. of Cambridge, assessed the economic development benefits of food-waste-reduction initiatives. The 25-page report compared jobs and economic activity among food-waste haulers; composting, anaerobic digestion and animal feed operations; and food-rescue organizations before and after the Oct. 1, 2014 implementation of the ban. The ban creates jobs by driving a market for alternatives to disposing of food waste in Dumpsters, according to the report.

“The report also shows that food-waste haulers and processors, as well as food-rescue organizations, employ 500 people directly, while supporting more than 900 jobs when accounting for indirect and induced effects. These sectors generate more than $46 million of labor income and $175 million in economic activity. …

“About 1,700 facilities, including restaurants, hotels and conference centers, universities, supermarkets and food processors, are covered under the ban.” More here.

Meanwhile, the more of us who convert our own food scraps to compost for our yards, our friends’ yards, or community gardens, the better for the envionment. “One and one and 50 make a million,” after all.

Photo: Green Fingers
Converting food scraps to compost instead of putting them in the trash. In Massachusetts, large facilities are complying with a food-waste ban. Individual efforts add up, too.

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When dollar bills of any denomination get too beat up to use, the federal government shreds them. For a long time, the various Federal Reserve banks gave out small bags of shredded money to visitors as a souvenir — always a big hit with kids.

But for the last few years, shredded money has been used as compost in gardens. Here’s a story from Seth Archer at Business Insider about the new approach.

“Have you ever wondered what happened to currency that gets damaged? If you have a paper shredder in your home, you already have a pretty good idea. But that’s just the start….

“The New Orleans branch of the Federal Reserve shreds $6 million in cash each day. They mainly shred bills that are dirty, taped, graffitied or otherwise unfit to be used as cash.

“The bills are shredded to a fine texture to make compost. … The cash is transferred to a compost facility, where it is mixed with other materials to make nutritious plant food.

“After the compost is made, it is sold to local farmers, who use it to grow peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.

” ‘It is very fulfilling to be growing using a material that would otherwise go to waste.’ — Simond Menasche, founder and director of Grown On.”

More here.

Photo: Great Big Story

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Tara Mitchell writes at EcoRI News, about the many virtues of compost. It’s a timely topic for gardeners starting to think about spring and what to order from the seed catalogs that arrive this time of year.

Mitchell reports from Wrentham (MA), “John Engwer, owner of Groundscapes Express Inc., and Butch Goodwin, operations manager, recently led Ecological Landscaping Alliance (ELA) participants on a tour of the company’s composting facility, explaining how compost is made and discussing its many benefits and uses. …

“With the recent implementation of the Massachusetts ban on food waste being buried or incinerated, food scrap from hospitals, restaurants and supermarkets have become another component in the composting process. Food scrap from a local hospital is now incorporated into Groundscapes’ composting operation. …

“Goodwin said the material takes about four months to decompose and is then left to cure for another two months. It’s then screened. The finished product, dark brown, moist, light and crumbly, smelling of earth and full of microbes, is then ready to be delivered. …

“Engwer emphasized the importance of using, reusing and retaining existing wood, stumps, brush and other natural material on site so that organic matter can remain part of the cycle of growth, death, decomposition and renewal.”

You can find more on the how-to here.

Photo: Ecological Landscaping Association
The first step in the Groundscapes Express composting process is mixing the raw materials. 

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