Composting Part 2

The best home compost bin for non-meat and animal fats available on the market and also at the Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre.

Collison has always been very community-minded, a purveyor of the idea that when you act locally you will impact change globally. With previous stints at other local charity organizations such as the: Inter-Cultural Association, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Habitat Acquisition Trust and the Silver Threads’ Meal on Wheels program, it is evident, that her greatest strength lies in her ability to work collaboratively with others. This is reflected within her educational background, she received a Masters in Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto where her research specialization was in Nonprofit Management and Community Involvement.

Also as a newfound mother, she has the patience of a saint, which comes in handy, when a nosy blogger drops in unannounced on a busy weekday afternoon wanting an interview. Having met and talked at length with both Collison and Adams’ I am absolutely amazed at this natural occurring decomposition process, that is super-charged through human intervention.

Compost is best described as decaying and nutrient rich matter, explains Jeff Gillman in The Truth About Organic Gardening, “compost comes from once-living creatures and so contains the nutrients needed by plants to grow and maintain their health.” The way in which compost is generated is either through:  anaerobic digestion and or aerobic digestion. The difference between these two approaches to composting is either the presence or absence of air, which can accelerate the decomposition process, if done properly. At a cost-effective business level- aerobic digestion is the only way to go when you are continually dealing with vast amounts of food scraps and yard waste as Adams does.

Her-Hof, is the name of the In-Vessel aerobic digestion system that is used at ReFuse’s Cobble Hill processing plant. To wrap your mind around the enormity of this composting operation, Adams’ would like for us to imagine a 130 x 120 ft aircraft hanger, therein containing a big cement tunnel. This cement tunnel sits above a sub-floor punctured with many ventilation holes, wherein, “basically air goes through underneath that the sub-floor and up through the material and then it is all sucked off by two big vent pipes and is assessed for CO2 and temperature and all that stuff.” This cement structure, is then compartmentalized into three separate processing or decomposition stations called Bio-Cells which are so large that they have to moved around by heavy machinery he explains, “Then the front-end loader [that loads it] pulls it all out and dumps it all out onto a secondary curing or aerated floors, so again these are big bunkers; so the material is in there. So each of these bunkers has aerated channels on the floor [again on timers] blows air up throw these materials to keep it active.” To prevent the compost from becoming inactive air is constantly injected into the decaying organic mass, “we have to sustain the OMRR [Organic Matter Recycling Regulation] where you have to hit 55 degrees C for more than three days consistent and over that whole process of about ten days you have to keep it between 45-55 C.” The reason that reFuse must keep their compost regulated at this temperature is not only to satisfy provincial government safety regulations but also to kill any potential pathogens that are fermenting within the organic mass.

If Adams’ couldn’t guarantee this, then he would be unable to sell the soil that is produced. The whole process from start to finish takes on average 34 days and will pass through six decomposition chambers within the cement bunker, before being transferred outside, to store the finished product- fresh humus. Helping the ventilation process within the building, is an alloy bucket attached to the front-end loader that acts to, “shred up the material to keep it porous,” which in comparison to the DIY approach for a backyard compost pile is the equivalent to the use of a really big shovel or pitchfork to turn over the decomposing mass. The In-Vessel approach to commercial composting can be overwhelming and a bit mind-boggling, so if you are like me, you will be more inclined to trying composting for yourself. If so, there are numerous options at your disposal (no pun intended) explains Collison.

This individual is harvesting some newly produced and enriched soil thanks to the worms.

For apartment dwellers, who don’t have access to a community garden or a backyard- don’t despair worm composting is your ticket, “you can buy a bin here [at the Compost Education Centre] or there are lots of plans online even, to figure out how to assemble one for free. There are some components that you need, air holes so they [the earthworms] can breathe and you need bedding and of course [you need] worms; so there are a few worm breeders in town, which sell worms at about $35-$40 per pound.” So when you have the worms and the bucket, aren’t their odor problems to worry about, I wonder out loud, not so Collison explains, “That is actually one of the myths about that sort of thing, so if you are living in an apartment you are [going] to be doing worm composting on your balcony- no one is even going to know.t is about the size of a recycling bin except with a bin, so it is pretty space savvy.

Apparently some recycling bins can double as compost bins, who knew?

So often times, people think that their will be odours, but as long as you are covering your food scraps, like by digging it in a little bit. Then you are not going to have fruit flies or odour problems, it will just start to smell like dirt which is essentially what it [the compost] is turning into.” Disaster averted, up next is the earth machine the quintessential backyard compost bin for homeowners, “ so this is a regular earth machine. The earth machine is your basic backyard composter, so you are putting 50% greens and 50% browns into it. So greens are your wet sort of food waste, so your nitrogen rich food materials. You want your raw fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags and rinsed out eggshells. You want to avoid bread, pastas, oils, meats and that sort of thing in here. It does have a lot of different things that make it pest proof, so like a strong pest plate at the base [of the compost bin] with holes in it, so bugs can get through, but rodents can’t. A locking lid, vents and like on the bottom of course [is the trapped door] where you take out all the compost. And a wingdigger…” A wing-digger is a nifty little tool that is used for turning your backyard compost pile, something I discover that I am not doing.

Makes aerating your compost every week more ergnomical and easier on your back.

This helps to explain, why after three seasons of continual usage in my backyard, my compost bin hasn’t created the rich humus that I am used to, but rather a putrid mucky mass, “you should be doing it at least once a week because bugs need air. So if you are just letting your compost settle and you are not aerating it at all, it makes it a lot less pest-resistant and because it is going to be really appealing as a habitat for rodents, the example that I always like to give is, that if you are a momma rat and you are looking for a nice safe warm place for your babies, wouldn’t a compost bin be fantastic? Your predators can’t get in and it is generating heat from the chemical breakdown, so but if you are sticking a big sharp stick through it once a week, it is less appealing to them as a habitat. So you are not going to get rats, as well all the bugs that are in there, doing everything that they do to turn it into compost need air. This is fantastic, especially for the gardeners, because you end up with a very tangible finished product, you end up with that soil.”

If you are using your compost bin correctly, by turning your compost pile once a week with your wing-digger and or pitchfork, then you should have harvestable soil after one season of use, explains Collison, “If you started in the fall then by the spring, you will have finished compost.” But if you aren’t a gardener or if you want to go zero food waste entirely by diverting meats and fats from the garbage can and into the compost pile, then you should purchase a green cone digester, which Collison is effusive about,  “If you are serious this creates almost a closed system because you can put all food waste into this, so all the gravy, the meat, the bones, the pasta all that because it is a lot more pest resistant because it is getting buried into the ground a little bit and it is breaking down in a different matter, it is breaking down slightly anerobically but not releasing as much methane as say you were to through all of this into the landfill. All the ingredients, the nutrients just seep into the ground around it, so you don’t empty it, it just sort of stays, it reaches this magic capacity.”

This diagram from the Ontario provincial government helps explain the chemical decomposition process

When you hit this magical capacity, you will notice it as it, “ gets to a point where it stays ¾ full, weirdly though, right? And then you want to dig it out and changes location [in your yard] once every five years because, and you will notice because it just seems to start slowing down and it doesn’t seem too work as well as it used to, you just change locations. And what is great about this is, is that you can also put dog feces in this, so a lot of pet owners use this.” But Collision encourages caution with this approach as there may be some personal health implications from improper usage of the Green Cone Digester, “if you are putting waste in from a carnivorous animal, because you can also put in waste from hamsters and rabbits and horse manure into any sort of composting system, those are sort of herbivores.

A promotional image for the green cone digester compost bin, which if your neighbours weren't in the know, could be mistaken for a sculpture or a piece of decorative lawn art.

But anything with a carnivorous animal, you don’t want to have this digester near anything with food and plants. There has been no research to show that there is any vector transfer, but this is just a precautionary principle, because people are worried that if they find the vectors in the dog waste that somehow it might transfer to the tomatoes that you are growing right beside it, so people are worried about that sort of thing, though there has never been a link shown.”  Nadine also reminds me that the key to successful composting is garnered through achieving a balance between equal application of green and brown layers of decaying organic matter.

The green layer is composed of wet matter such as: expired sauces or spreads, used coffee grinds and tea bags, fruit cores and peelings whereas the brown layer is synonymous with the dry matter such as: newspaper scraps, dried pasta or breads and or leaves. As Collison explains, maintaining an equal balance of green to brown is an important task by creating, “layers of browns and greens like in Lasagna but you always want to end on a brown layer. That is like the cheese on top of the Lasagna. That keeps down the fruit flies and the smells and stuff like that. So what a lot of people do is that they either build like a leaf bin or have a garbage bag full of shredded paper, or whatever. So that you put in the greens and then you put in a layer of these on top.”  Should you want to find out more about composting, as a volunteer or if you want to access a price list for the various different types of compost bins and workshops that the Compost Education Centre offers and if composting during you spare time, is not your idea of a fun time, then Jason Adams would be glad to take your organic food waste off of your hands, at a time and location that is both convenient and accessible to you, a list of home and business pick-up and or delivery options are available on the reFUSE website.

The common thread connecting Collison’s and Adams’ unique narratives, is their desire to be part of the change, that they want to see in the world (to borrow a turn a phrase from Ghandi); for Collison this meanings putting an end to environmental disconnection by connecting various generations together through the joy of creating compost together, “I often find that the grandparents and the great-grandparents are composting (and they) are teaching the kids how to compost.” This action might be taken to alleviate guilt, she explains that, “they have been around lounger (and) have seen the deterioration of the planet and really remember what things were like as a child and how things have changed over time.” Regardless of an individuals’ reason for joining this new compost movement, the outcome is a bright one, states Collison optimistically, “ millennials kind of grew up with it being a little bit more on the radar and the kids that are coming up now, will just be common place (composting that is) hopefully.”

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