Thursday, February 21, 2013

Letter: Moving ahead on composting

Letter: Moving ahead on composting
Montreal Gazette February 19, 2013

Re: “Composting delay is a waste of good waste” (Editorial, Feb. 1)

I read with interest your editorial on the delay in setting up a compostables collection network. I’d like to add my voice to those suggesting finding local solutions and point to a couple of kinds of “low hanging fruit” in managing organic resources currently being treated as waste at great expense.

The first group are the materials that can be successfully “lawn composted”: grass clippings and deciduous fall leaves. The right tool for this is the now ubiquitous mulching mower. Research funded by the golf-course industry has shown that both grass clippings and a surprisingly large amount of fall leaves can simply be shredded into turf with no harm to turf quality, but instead, improvement of the soil. This costs less labour than collecting; fall leaves can be shredded into turf in a third the time it would take to rake and bag them, with no demand on the public fisc for hauling and composting and re-hauling the compost to your neighbourhood. In many ways, our old habits are dying hard for no good reason, since this is a method that requires not more work, but less.

The second low hanging fruit out there are spent coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are sterile, high in nitrogen compared to other compostables, and have no weed seed or pathogen issues. Once dried, they can be stored, bagged and resold to the public as a soil amendment, already in particles suitable for spreading with any ordinary fertilizer spreader. While the mulching mower is now everywhere, here a good technology needs to be developed to rapidly dewater and dry coffee grounds with minimal energy expenditure — some combination of draining, pressing and solar drying would probably fill the bill. Coffee sellers like Tim Hortons, McDonalds, Second Cup and Starbucks process hundreds of tons of coffee grounds in our area and have the resources to save the environment a huge amount of hauling around of unnecessary wet materials. Some combination of cost avoidance, sales revenues and positive PR should make this economically a winner.

Some similar dehydration technology might be used in the treatment of other kitchen wastes, which, like grass clippings, are mostly water, and which become rapidly putrid when enclosed in an air-free container, like a plastic bag or even a green bin. This is why central composting will always generate some nuisance factor in its immediate neighbourhood, since the anaerobic wet materials will always bring in a stench, even if composting will eventually eliminate it.

Local worm composting is a potential solution in some situations where a stream of kitchen-type wastes can pass directly from the kitchen to the worm area without being closed up and allowed to get stinky. This can also serve as a way to use some of the paper that flows through our city, including The Gazette, soiled cardboard and paper that might otherwise not be eligible for paper recycling. Vermicompost thus made can also be dried down somewhat before being taken for use in gardens, yards and other applications, thus lightening the load on hauling requirements.

Keeping organic resources out of anaerobic landfills is a worthy goal, and even hauling them to compost sites instead is better than letting them generate methane, 30 times the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is. But, the right approach to organic resource management is to find the best and lowest cost way of treating them as locally as possible. In this way we can improve our soils and capture carbon there while burning up the least amount of carbon fuels in the process.

Frank Teuton

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette
Read more:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Frank, wonderful information and review about a great resource not a waste product.