Friday, April 4, 2014

The other end of the organic pipe

As Barrie slowly increases waste diversion, with measures like every-other-week trash collection, residents must keep up. And with spring weather finally approaching, composting resumes.
In fact, I know at least 4 ways to compost. First is the traditional backyard method. Growing up, my grandparents, early adopters of neighbourhood bottle recycling, also had two compost piles: an enclosed one at their Toronto house and an open pile at their farm. From them I learned not all garbage was created equal: some went into different containers and was even a valuable resource.
I follow that tradition at my own Barrie home, where a rotating composter improves the process greatly, providing rich fertilizer for our vegetable gardens. However, backyard composting has limitations. You need yard space for it, not an option for apartment-dwellers, and you must keep it mainly to fruit & vegetable peels, because meat scraps, bones, bread, dairy or oils draw unwanted pests and spoil the composting process. You must also mix or alternate wet, rich kitchen waste (“greens”) with drier carbon (“browns”) like shredded paper, dried grass clippings or raked leaves.
On the other hand, if you have the space, you can do a lot of composting in raised garden beds in a practice known as sheet composting or lasagnagardening (named for alternating layers of mulch) which I have found a wonderful improvement on traditional backyard gardening.
But other options are available, too. One is vermicomposting: red wiggler worms in a container under the sink who eat your diced food scraps and rapidly turn them into finished humus for your plants indoors, outdoors, or on a balcony. You can get worms and other supplies from in Bradford. Vermicomposting works at home, in an apartment, or as a class project to learn about worms, soil, the nutrient cycle, and waste reduction.
Just recently I discovered another method called bokashi composting. In your special anaerobic (airtight) container, you press down each layer of food scraps and sprinkle on top bokashi (a mixture of friendly microbes, bran and molasses) so instead of rotting, your scraps get pickled. After 1-2 weeks fermenting, you bury the compost under soil in a container or garden. Bokashi eliminates odourous gasses, flies, or animal attraction and can process a much wider variety of scraps, including meat, fat, cheese, bread, fish, even bones! It becomes a rich, organic amendment to revitalize your soil, improve water penetration, and increase plant growth and yields. An expert in nearby Utopia is hosting workshops where you can learn Bokashi hands-on; visit to sign up or access e-books or email Vera at
Last but certainly not least is Barrie’s Green Bin organics program. This most closely resembles the traditional out-of-sight, out-of-mind model of trash collection, accepting the widest variety of organics, including used tissues and paper towels and various used paper or cardboard food containers, as well as any kind of actual food waste. In fact, with the notable exception of diapers and pet waste, the green bin takes just about every kind of “stinky” trash – so luckily, it still goes away every week!
Within our own average family of four we produce almost nothing that ends up in the traditional garbage can, and our consumption patterns aren’t that far outside the norm. So if you’re finding your trash can is stinky or overflowing, you can probably solve it by better learning and practicing Barrie’s various diversion programs, including one or more kinds of composting.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Reduce garbage with innovative compost methods"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

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