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!!!

Hello my packaging and sustainability friends! This is officially my 50th blog post! Hurray for dedication to all things sustainable packaging!

Sorry that the link to the water scarcity mapping tool from yesterday’s post was broken…I fixed it and added another link to another tool; go crazy!

Ok, this is gunna be a biggie.

Several weeks ago I began investigating what kind of composter would be appropriate for the amount of food and yard waste generated at Dordan. To my surprise, there were like a million different kinds with different properties and I couldn’t actually speak with a Sales Rep because most of the composters available for sale via were done so through distributors and brokers and in a nut shell, a computer.

Do we want a vermin composter, I asked myself?

Do we want a tumbler?

Do we want one capable of handling a lot of material or a bit…oh I just don’t know!

I then went to my network, sending inquires to anyone I could think of that would know a thing or two about composting.

The first inquiry I sent was to the Marketing Manager of Cedar Grove, which is a super sophisticated industrial composting facility in the greater Seattle area. I met this rep at the SPC Spring meeting in Boston, so I thought she may be open to providing some guidance…

I wrote,

Hey,

This is Chandler Slavin with Dordan Manufacturing—we met briefly at the SPC meeting. I articulated gratitude for your presentation as it was really very insightful. I hope this email finds you well.

This email is sort of silly but I was wondering if you had any insight in regard to the following:

Dordan is investigating buying an on-site commercial composter for the food and yard waste generated at our facility and by our employees. Do you have any suggestions in regard to what kind of composter would work best for us or what brand to choose? I would love to talk with a Sales person of commercial composters but can’t find anyone who would be able to aid in our selection…

If you have any suggestions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Thanks for your time!

Chandler

And her response,

Thanks for the nice note, Chandler. The only small technology for on-site composting I am familiar with that I see with some regularity is the Earth Tub (link below).

http://www.compostingtechnology.com/invesselsystems/earthtub/

If you wanted a wide range of options to consider, you might want to check in with the USCC. There are many consultants that are members that may be closer to you in proximity that could offer some great advice. http://www.compostingcouncil.org/contact/

Thanks for reaching out, and good luck with your composting!

I knew I liked her…

If you follow the link embedded above, you are taken to a description of Earth Tub, which is a small and sophisticated COMMERCIAL composter. From what I understand, there is a big difference between home composting and commercial composting: home composting is for a much smaller quantity of material while commercial is usually reserved for large quantities of material. AND commercial composters are generally employed in hopes of generating quality compost for market, while home composters usually enjoy more of a trial-and-error approach, with the resulting compost consumed by the home composter’s garden or community or what not.

Okay…this is definitely too big, I thought to myself as I tried to conceptually walk through the diagram.

Next I sent an email to my friend who works in the sustainability packaging field as I assumed he would be a pro-composter knowing his genuine commitment to sustainability and all…

Hey,

Do you guys compost your food and yard waste at your company? Do you do home composting? Dordan is investigating composters for the food and yard waste our facility and employees generate and don’t know what kind or what brand is the best to go with. Any insight you could provide would be very well received.

Thanks buddy!

And his response,

Hey Chandler,

I do compost at home. I used to have a naturemill which was okay, but not odor and noise free as advertised. The benefit is that it can accept meat and dairy scraps. Now I’m doing some experimental stuff, which I would not recommend at this point. Several of my friends have had great success with vermi-composters (worms). 

Have a great weekend!

Hmmm, experimental you say? Sounds far out!

Lastly, I sent an email to good ole’ Robert Carlson, previously of the California Board of Integrated Waste Management, which now is CalRecycle. For those of you who have been following my blog for a while now, I am sure you remember Robert as the one who gave me tons and tons advice as I struggled to understand “sustainability,” let alone care out mine and Dordan’s space therein…

Anywhoo I wrote,

Hey bud,

Happy Friday!

Ok, do you have any insight in regard to the following?

Dordan is investigating buying an on-site composter for the food and yard waste our facility and employees generate. Do you have any suggestions in regard to what kind, what brand, or do you know anyone that would be willing to talk with me about the above questions? I know next to nothing about this and would really like some perspective before pulling the trigger.

Thanks!

Chan

Several minutes latter Robert called me and we discussed composting. Following the conversation, he sent me the following information, which was super helpful!

Visit these links:

http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/organics/homecompost/

http://www.composters.com/compost-tumblers.php

http://www.composters.com/vermiculture-worms.php

If you go the worm route…be sure to get the red wigglers…not the nightcrawlers.  I can point you to some sources for the worms themselves if you need that.

This is the sort of worm bin that we keep under our desks (they can be made rather easily too).

http://www.composters.com/vermiculture-worms/friendly-habitat-worm-compost-bin_50_4.php

This is the sort that many people use at home (there’s also a very popular square one).

http://groworganic.com/item_GCO201_CanOWorms.html

I like this one (regular composter, not vermi)…it’s kinda sexy and it’s so expensive that I’ve never been able to justify it for myself.

http://www.compostbins.com/general/compostumbler2composttumbler.cfm?TID=PBM004&source=channel_intelligence_gbase&ci_src=14110944&ci_sku=PBM004

Don’t forget the rain catchment system for your little victory garden!

http://www.composters.com/rain-barrels.php

http://www.gardeners.com/Two-Rain-Barrels/Watering_RainBarrels,38-665RS,default,cp.html

Let me know if you have other questions or if you find one you like but want another opinion!

He then sent me a picture of the composting bin in his office; ha! Oh those crazy Californian environmentalists…just joshing; they are my people!

Check it out, how silly:

WORRMMSSS

I spent the next several days visiting the above links, learning about the composting “formula,” and trying to determine what kind of composter Dordan should buy.

Still a little unsure, though feeling much more educated, I contacted the U.S. Composting Council, which the Rep from Cedar Grove referred me to in her email, copied above.

I went to the link she provided, spoke with the receptionist, and was transferred to the USCC’s Education Director. This guy was AWSOME! He spoke with me for as long as I desired, and provided AMAZING insight. Here is what I learned:

In order to determine what kind of compost one should buy, one needs to determine how much material will be added to the compost. Once can determine this by performing a WASTE AUDIT.

For us he recommended getting a 3X3X3 home composter, which is open to the ground.

He did not advocate a tumbler or worms because: the former doesn’t work well; the latter is used if ONLY food waste is going into the compost. Because we wish to compost our food waste along with our yard waste and possibly office waste and packaging, including bio-based plastics, this type of composter would not be the best.

As an aside, he did say that for the biodegration of bio-plastics, usually an industrial composting facility—not a home compost—is required. Regardless, we are still going to play a little mad scientist and run some internal tests to see the rate at which some of the bio-based plastics we have access to break down, if at all. We are also waiting on a sample roll of a bio-based plastic that is certified to break down in a home compost; therefore, should biodegrade in Dordan’s compost, too.

Okay, before I get off track, I sent the following email to this contact from the USCC, thanking him for his awsomeness.

Greetings,

This is Chandler with Dordan—we spoke earlier today about what kind of composter I should get for my company’s food and yard waste. Remember? Ha!

Anyway, I just wanted to say mucho gracias for chit chatting with me about composting; if you have any further suggestions, please don’t hesitate. Real quick: Do you have any information on waste audits? It sounds super fancy so I don’t know if it is necessary for our initiative, but I would like to see what that all entails…

Again, thanks a bunch for your time today!

Chandler

That day he responded,

Hi Chandler.

A quick google of “How to perform a waste audit” brought up some good examples.

Basically you need to know who much compostables you could collect per day or month.  Then you can put together a system to compost them.

There was a sustainability coordinator for a brewery at our last compost class, so I copied her on this email (Hi!) in case she has some of those resources at her fingertips.

Fall is always a great time to start a project like this because leaves are the perfect bulking agent (“brown”) to balance your food scraps (“green”) and get you pile off to a good start before winter.

Best of luck!

And to my surprise, the sustainability coordinator for a brewery responded that day! She wrote,

Chandler,

In my experience, a waste audit is far from technical or “fancy”! It literally involves digging through your trash or recycling receptacles and finding out what you have in there. We’ve done trash audits in the past and we usually do them by weight. We have one central dumpster for the brewery which we periodically take a few hours, put some gloves on, and dig through bags of trash to see what we are throwing out. We separate the trash into categories and weigh as we go so we can get a profile of what are trash consists of. Some of our categories were general as in food waste, recyclables, and breakrooms, and then we had department specific categories like brewing, filtration, sensory lab, bottle shop, etc….

You can do the same process for your recycling streams. These are VERY helpful in establishing where you are and what is the next thing to tackle. After we did a couple trash audits we realized we still had a lot of recyclables in our trash which meant we needed to do some more and/or better education for our employees on using the recycling bins etc… We also found that a significant portion of our trash was empty plastic bags from a brewing ingredient- we are looking at switching which company we buy from in order to find one with a recyclable or compostable package. We also had a lot of empty sugar bags which our paper mill decided they didn’t want because the residual sugar “gums” up their machinery- again, we’re trying to find an alternative to purchasing in that form.

In short, a trash/recycling audit can tell you a lot and give you ideas on what to do. Again, its is really simple. All we had was some gloves, a notebook and pen, a scale, and a bin to put the material in for weighing. It’s a little dirty and time-consuming but easy and well worth it.

Hope that helps.

WHAT A DOLL, I thought to myself. While I do get bogged down from time to time when I come across people that use “sustainability” while disregarding its main principles, I get super excited when I meet people that are willing to go out of their way to help, regardless of what’s in it for them. I love my “sustainability people!”

OK. Step one of action plan: Conduct a waste audit.

Tune in tomorrow to hear about my experiences dumpster diving; my first audit is this afternoon I have a fancy suit and everything!