Greetings all!

Today’s post is a continuation of yesterdays and details exactly how Phil built us a composter out of post-industrial materials. Enjoy!

After we gathered our composter materials and the needed tools and amenities, we started talking through the concept

After conversing, Phil thought that it would be cool if we had two compartments for our composter because, as alluded to yesterday, this allows us to have different batches of material based on how long the material has been “composting.” Also, in having two compartments for the composter, we can play mad scientist with the bio-based resins we have sampled and see how they do in fact break down, and if so, over what kind of time frame. As discussed in a previous post, we have some concern about bio-based resins breaking down completely i.e. being completely consumed by the microorganisms present in the disposal environment. If bio-based resins do not completely break down, then we walk the risk of introducing a ton of teeny tiny plastic particulates into the environment, which could travel into our waterways, be consumed by tiny things that get consumed by bigger things and on it goes until humans are ingesting tiny bits of plastic. Yuck! The fancy term is “bioaccumulation” and it is no good.

Where was I going…oh yea: so while we won’t be able to tell, obviously, if the bio-based material breaks down completely because we don’t have insane microscopic vision, we will be able to watch the degredation process in real time, which I think is pretty neato! In theory, the second compartment could be devoted entirely to watching different bio-based resins breakdown; the remaining compost, therefore, would not be used on our farm next spring because the risk that it may contain plastic particulates. Perhaps we could even send this compost to a “lab” to determine if the plastic particulates have in fact been entirely consumed…imagine the possibilities!

Please note, however, than most bio-based resins are certified to breakdown in an industrial composting facility, which is much more sophisticated than our composter. Therefore, I am unsure if most of these materials, certified with the ASTM D6400 Standard for Industrial Compostability, will break down at all, as our composter resembles more of a home composter than an industrial one. We did, on the other hand, just sample a new bio-based resin, which has received certification for “OK to home Compost.” This stuff is definitely going in our mighty composter to see how it breaks down!

And, how cool is this, but when we decide to start playing mad scientist, I will take pictures of the degredation process over time so you can see how a converted package morphs and breaks down in the disposal environment in which it is intended for. Splendid!

Alright, let’s continue with our how-to construct a composter:

So yeah, we decided on two compartments.

Then Phil suggested that we add some kind of mechanism, which would allow us to access the compost pile without having Go Go Gadget arms. After all, the composter is over 4 feet tall, which would make access to the material difficult as would it make “tending” to the compost problematic. Phil came up with another solution: why not add a tracked, wooden component to one side of the composter, which would then receive a thin piece of wood that you could move up and down along the track! Sort of like a curtain, this wood veil could be easily manipulated by the person tending to the compost, moving it up to access the mix and moving it down to conceal the pile from critters and excessive wind, rain, sun, etc.

So that was the approach Phil took toward constructing our compost: two compartments with a retractable side wall built out of post-industrial wood pallets.

Once we were all in agreement, Phil began working on “piratizing” our pallets. This consisted of him breaking down the pallets with a pry-bar in hopes of gathering enough material to carry out his vision. 

Basically, Phil intended on have two pallets per side of the composter, with a “divider” that cut the area of the composter in half, thereby creating two compartments. In order to accomplish this he began by attaching two skids together via a drill and nails. See:

After assembling one side of the composter, Phil repeated this process and created another side wall. He then attached these together, creating an “L” form.

Prior to calling it a day, Phil attached one pallet to the newly constructed “L,” which would serve as the divider between the other compartment, yet to be created. Check it out:

The next day, Phil finished the divider wall by attaching another skid, and created the entire second compartment. Check out the skid organization:

He also designed and constructed our “opening mechanism,” illustrated here:

And TA DA, we have a fully functioning and arguably adorable composter; I’m so proud:

I can’t wait to paint it! I’m thinking polka dots!

Tune in tomorrow to learn about oxo-degradables and other biodedradable plastics.

Compost baby ya!

August 24, 2010

Helllooooooo everyone and happy day!

A quick mention before I get into the meat of today’s post, which discusses how to construct a home composter!

I am beginning a new research project on all things “oxo-degradable.” One of our customers expressed interest in these “magical little additives,” which supposedly render a resin biodegradable in a landfill? I am totally confused after my conference call with a rep from a company marketing this “innovative new technology” but I will keep you all posted with what I find. I didn’t even know things broke down in a landfill, really, let alone can receive certification for such a process, which according to this company rep, they have? Go figure!

If any of you, my diligent blog followers, know of the validity of these additives from a holistic, sustainability-based approach, please advise!!!

OK….drum roll please….

Dordan Manufacturing Company Incorporated is proud to announce completion of its composter construction! Dordan is now open for composting! Yehawww!

So this is what I learned: building a composter is just as easy, if not easier, then buying one. When I first received word from upper management that Dordan was considering getting a composter, I began researching what kinds and was quick to learn that there are a million different kinds, brands, styles, requirements, capacities, etc. For those of you who follow my blog, you will remember that this inspired me to conduct Dordan’s first waste audit, insofar as I was trying to quantify how much “compostables” Dordan generates via our employees and yard in order to determine what kind of composter to purchase. While I was never able to get a good reading of our compostables because I was too much of a sally and couldn’t separate our “wet waste” i.e. week old food, from our “dry waste” i.e. industrial scrap, I did intend on training our employees to separate the food waste from the other waste. In separating out the food waste, I assumed that we could get a much more accurate reading of how much compostables we generate per week, month, etc., therefore indicating what kind of composter to buy. Makes sense, right?

And enter Emily and Phil.

As some of you know, several weeks ago we had offered the use of Dordan’s land to a local farmer, Emily, for growing organics next summer as the land she is currently using is no longer available. Ironically, Emily also knows how to construct composters! When she and her father came out to access the land before committing to using it next summer, I indicated that I was researching composters and having a difficult time finding “the right one.” She explained how she and her father had just finished building a composter for one of the restaurants they provide organics to, and emphasized that it was super easy.

Awesome, I thought to myself; it certainly makes my job easier; and, it’s cheap!

After Emily and Phil agreed to help us construct a composter, it took literally 3 days for its completion!

What follows is a description of what I learned from observing Phil and Emily as they built our composter. Please note that the materials used for the construction of our composter are post-industrial, often times available at manufacturing facilities. Perhaps you can apply these insights to the construction of your own composter; after all, as Phil’s shirt said on day 1 of building our composter, “a rind is a terrible thing to waste!”

First, you need to find a material that will become the composter; Phil suggested wood or a combination of wood and chicken wire. The composter, in concept, should be open to the ground and the sky but have a retractable “roof” to keep rainwater and critters out. It should have at least one 4-walled compartment for the compost and preferably another for the compost that is farther along in the “process.” In other words, in having two compartments for compost, one can move a batch of compost to the compartment reserved for the more “mature” compost mix, while keeping the other compartment for the freshies. Make sense? It will!

As per Phil’s and Emily’s ingenious suggestion, we decided to use post-industrial wood pallets for our composter. We have a ton of wood pallets in-house, as that is what our material comes on when we receive it. While normally we recycle these pallets by selling them to wood re-processors, Dordan just so happened to have a bunch in-house waiting for shipment. Coincidence? I think not!

After inspecting our wood pallet selection (Dordan uses many different shapes and sizes of wood pallets and therefore we had several “types” to choose from), Phil determined that those of a more “narrow” disposition would be the best for conversion into a composter. These more narrow pallets measure roughly 4 ½ feet by 2 feet, are made of solid pine wood, and have no iky additives added. Here is a picture of the skids selected, for your viewing pleasure:

We collected about a half a dozen of these wood pallets and Phil went on to “piratize” them into a very sophisticated composter, consisting of two compartments with a retractable “side.” This retractable side will allow us to mix the concoction, add more materials without having to lift it the 4 ½ feet required to access the compartments, and check in on the status of the compost.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

After we decided on what type of material to use in the construction of the skid, we selected a location. Dordan CEO Daniel Slavin suggested it be behind the future farm plot but close to a Dordan entrance/exit to make for easy maintenance. This is what we decided on:

The types of tools and amenities needed for a construction project of this character are:

Air gun

Extension cord

Electrical outlet 

Reciprocating saw

Circular saw and ear muffs

Hammer

Nails, screws

Measuring tape

Pry bar

And some handy-man know how!

After we gathered our composter materials and the needed tools and amenities, we started talking through the concept.

Tune in tomorrow to learn what Phil and Emily come up with!!!

Good afternoon world!

I am SoOoOoOoOoOoOoOooooooOoOO EXCITED!

Why, you ask?

Because…I have a new Sustainability Initiative to oversea at Dordan. And you, my diligent blog followers, are the first to know!

Dordan Manufacturing Company Incorporated is proud to announce its goal of becoming a zero waste facility!

We will begin to approach this goal by purchasing a composter for the food and yard waste generated by Dordan’s employees and facility…

We will then use this compost to nourish our “Victory Garden,” which will produce organics for local charities, community events, and ME (maybe I will share with other employees if I’m feeling generous…)! Just joshing; I’m happy to spread the joy!

Because Dordan sits on a nice piece of earth and because everyone likes gardens and fresh veggies, we thought that this would be a great place to do well by our community and our environment. I don’t know why but I am positively tickled pink that I got the green light to pursue this initiative.

And how funny…picture us, at Dordan’s booth at Pack Expo, giving out fresh produce to passer buyers (no pun intended)….

A Dordan rep says, “You want a green package? How about some organics grown from our garden fertilized by our own organic waste! BOO YA greenwashers!”

A little spicy, yes, but still, it tells a nice story. And I think the value in all of this is being able to develop a brand and tell a story that will resonate with consumers looking to do well by themselves and the environment. Cool beans!

Granted a goal of zero-waste is an almost impossible goal to attain, it does give us something to work towards… AND, I have spent most of my time at Dordan creating a pro-plastics argument in the context of sustainability and packaging, which is all fine and good and someone needs to do it, but it doesn’t really set us apart from our competition, that is, other Midwestern thin-gauge custom thermoformers.

SO that is when we thought the idea of zero waste was a good one. I don’t know why I get so surprised when sometimes, good works=good business; I guess they aren’t mutually exclusive…who da thunk?

I’ll be honest—I was feeling a little without direction as my work with the Canadian retailer is moving along slowly…very slowly. I think I was just so super excited to be managing a Committee that wanted to recycle thermoforms like me that I kind of lost site of the reality of the situation, which is, that this is business. Granted people do care about the environment and recycling, but often times, said sympathy is catalyzed by business interest. In the case of recycling thermoforms, everyone wants to do it, but no one is ready to step up and take responsibility or the risk. I do know that a lot of people want the post-consumer material and that the demand will continue to rise, especially if retailers start “suggesting” a percentage of post consumer content in packaging sold; what I don’t know, however, is if the economics will support the recycling of thermoforms in the States…ever.

I’ll keep you posted on my work with my clamshell recycling initiatives. Right now, as directed by my co-lead for the Committee, I am shelving my work until the communication of the Committee is better managed for easy correspondence.

BUT, what that does mean, is now I will be blogging about my work on recycling clamshells and our day-by-day attempts to become a zero-waste facility. Oh boy!

Have a splendid afternoon!