Huffington Post: 'Compost Islands'

'Compost Islands' Could Help Solve NYC's Trash Problem

By Emily Thomas 

Each year, New Yorkers produce more than 14 million tons of trash, which usually gets sent to landfills outside the city. Nearly 29 percent of that waste is suitable for composting, according to In response to this waste management issue, an architectural firm has unveiled concept designs for a project aiming to divert compostable material away from landfills and onto a series of so-called "compost islands."

The folks over at PRESENT Architecture have come up with a preliminary plan to turn the city’s compostable waste into multi-purpose islands around each of the five boroughs. The project, called Green Loop, would have trucks haul the city’s organic waste not to landfills but to 10 multi-layered tipping and composting stations built just offshore. The space on top of these facilities would be used for elevated recreational parks.

In tune with the city’s Vision 2020 plan, an initiative to develop the city’s unused waterfronts, Green Loop offers a potential solution for curbing pollution, while also providing new public spaces.

For now, though, Green Loop is pretty far from becoming a reality. The next stage of the project consists of researching the public's interest and the project's feasibility in terms of government support and financing. The project's creators predict it will come with a hefty price tag, though exact numbers have yet to be budgeted.

“It won't be cheap, but if you consider that NYC is spending over $300 million every year to truck waste out of the city to landfills, it's possible that these facilities could start to make financial sense over time,” Evan Erlebacher and Andre Guimond, two of the project's leaders, told The Huffington Post in an email. “Especially if you begin to consider the cost to the environment from all of those truck miles. A project like this could take years to review and build, but construction of the network can be phased, so it's not all built at once.”

In case you were wondering, the project also tackles the issue of smell.

"This is an industrial processing facility, so there are multiple options for eliminating smell. Temperature, oxygen levels and composition of compost all affect odor, and these things can be monitored in an industrial facility. Composting can be done in a closed system to reduce smell, and bio-filters are also an effective way to reduce airborne odors. This kind of composting facility is very different from your average backyard compost heap," Erlebacher and Guimond said.

  • Green Loop -- Aerial View Toward Lower Manhattan

"As it stands, trucks around NYC deliver waste to 'tipping stations,' where refuse is dropped off before being trucked to landfills. This [Green Loop] proposal basically combines an organic waste tipping station with a compost facility and a park. Our compost parks are located along the waterfront to take advantage of existing transportation infrastructure for barges and rail," Erlebacher and Guimond said in an email to HuffPost.

  • Green Loop -- Aerial View of Green Loop Network

    The Green Loop proposal envisions a network of 10 waterfront composting hubs in New York City, according to PRESENT Architecture's website.


  • Green Loop -- Rooftop Park & Gardens

    "NYC is already piloting a successful curbside collection program for organic waste, so it's likely that one day people will sort their organic waste just like they do their recycling. In the end, the success of composting will depend on whether New Yorkers embrace the idea or not. That, along with added technology, like trommel screens, to help sort out non-compostable items at the facility," Erlebacher and Guimond said in an email.

  • Green Loop -- Street Level Composting Facility

    The project would also create jobs. "A large construction project like this would definitely keep people busy for a while. And then once the facilities are up and running, they would need people to manage and operate them," Erlebacher and Guimond said.

  • Green Loop -- Composting Facility Diagram

    Each compost island facility would be multi-layered. A road connected to land would funnel trucks in and out of the island to unload the organic waste into the street-level compositing facility. The indoor composting process would produce nutrient-rich soil, with barges carrying away the final product to reduce traffic congestion.


  • Green Loop -- Rooftop Park Perspective

    Recreational parks would be set up atop Green Loop's street-level composting facilities. These public spaces could be used for gardening, sports and even cross-country skiing in the winter. Across the 10 compost islands, the elevated open spaces would add more than 125 acres of park land to the city, according to PRESENT's website.


  • Green Loop -- Nighttime View Toward Lower Manhattan

    "Implementing a project like this would require a huge amount of commitment and support, not just on the financial front, but from grassroots community groups to local and state government agencies. To push the concept closer to reality, we want to gauge the public's response and research feasibility further. Urban waste management and climate change are complex and sensitive problems that require a thoughtful approach," Erlebacher and Guimond told HuffPost.

Compost Valley featured in: Woodstock Times

Woodstock Organic Waste wants your compostables

An estimated 74 percent of trash generated by restaurants and schools could be composted, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When haulers pick up trash from Woodstock’s restaurants, they take it to the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA) in Kingston for weighing. Even though both food and food-soiled paper products, such a pizza boxes, can be processed in an industrial composting system, and even though there is such a brand-new system onsite at the UCRRA, the trash is then trucked to a landfill near Syracuse or Rochester.

Because the compostable material is mixed with regular trash, it has to be transported more than 250 miles in a vehicle that gets two to three miles per gallon. At that landfill, it rots and expels methane, said to contribute to global warming at a level 23 times higher than carbon dioxide. If the organic waste stayed in Ulster County, it could be converted into compost for use by local landscapers and gardeners. The tipping cost for trash is $103 per ton. UCRRA currently charges $33 per ton to drop off compostables.

“This is a no-brainer,” said Abby Bressack of Woodstock Organic Waste (WOW), an independent working group of Woodstock Transition. Bressack and the two other members of WOW, Jo Yanow-Schwartz and Joy Gross, are determined to make large-scale composting a reality in Woodstock and ultimately throughout Ulster County. But there are a number of kinks to work out.

Of the three major pieces of the puzzle, the biggest one, the industrial composting system, is already in place. The members of WOW have been speaking to restaurant owners about separating their compostables, a process that will take some adjustment but could, they hope, become as reflexive as culling recyclable cans, bottles, and paper. But separation is useless until there’s a trucking company willing and able to haul compostables to the UCRRA at a price restaurant owners can afford.

The established haulers “are not embracing the program,” said Michelle Bergkamp, UCRRA’s Recycling Coordinator. “They make a lot of money on garbage. Some of them already have the technology — they have the truck dedicated to food waste composting, which can’t leak. These are large national companies. One is an $18 billion company — you’d think they would be able to make it work. We have the facility, and there’s lots of interest, but the prices for hauling have deterred smaller businesses.”

A pilot program set up in spring of 2012 exceeded expectations and made back the investment of installing the composting system, officially called the Organics Recovery Facility. UCRRA continues to receive compostables from grocery stores, colleges, and a few restaurants, enabling the facility to create a soil enrichment substance that it sells at $43 per ton, mostly to landscapers and to topsoil producers who blend the compost with another product for resale. One ton, approximately two cubic yards, fills the back of a pickup truck.

“We don’t produce nearly enough to supply farms,” said Bergkamp. “We would love to advance composting in Ulster County.” But the participating businesses are serviced by two haulers, Waste Management and Royal Carting, which find the economics of hauling do not make it worthwhile to pick up compostables from a few individual restaurants in Woodstock.


Worth the gas money

Lori Caso of Waste Management said her company has helped implement compost hauling for a few large-scale businesses, such as a project in Chicago, where eleven Whole Foods markets have been separating their compostables. But in general, servicing individual restaurants for composting is not cost-effective for such a large hauler.

Julian Lesser is eager to jump into the breach. Lesser calls himself “a serial entrepreneur,” someone who likes to start businesses, sell them once they’re established, and move on to something new. He recently sold Boro Magazine, a publication he produced in western Queens, to a larger publisher. In the course of his venture, he became involved in a Queens composting project, leading him to the idea of offering hauling of compostables in the Hudson Valley through a business he calls Compost Valley.

“The prospects are tremendous,” he said of his new startup, based in Kingston, “but we have to lay the groundwork. I assumed everyone was as excited about composting as I was. But they’re not, and they don’t really understand it.”

Lesser sees composting as an almost effortless way to combat global warming. “You just sort out the organic material so it won’t become methane gas. And compost itself is extremely valuable to add to the ground, so much better than using fertilizer made from petroleum. We’re depleting our soils, since fertilizer gets washed away as soon as it rains. Compost continues to break down and self-releases.” And landfills are filling up at an alarming rate.

But even for Lesser, with his idealistic vision, the economics won’t work unless he gets a substantial number of restaurants to participate. “I’m not going to come up to Woodstock to pick up from one restaurant,” he explained. “I need to have 20 businesses, or it’s not worth the gasoline. I want to drive up and fill up the truck. To make this move quicker, I’m offering additional bins that would be community drop space for residences in town, or for businesses that are too small for a 64-gallon tote. People can use the community drop for free.”

He sees community involvement as key to making large-scale composting doable, and he thinks Woodstock is the kind of place to make it happen. Lesser appreciates the efforts of community groups such as WOW, who have been surveying restaurants in town. The WOW women (who state that men are entirely welcome to join their group) have found a mix of enthusiasm and reluctance on the part of local restaurateurs.

Yanow-Schwartz, Gross, and Bressack are willing to go in and train restaurant staff to separate out their compostables, which include not only vegetable scraps and leftovers but also items that would not be appropriate for backyard compost piles — meat, bones, paper products soiled by food, biodegradable cutlery — but can be handled by the UCRRA facility. Aside from the logistics of separating items and storing them in an outdoor bin until pick-up, restaurant owners are concerned about the additional cost.

“We’re hoping that since they will cut their trash by almost three-quarters, they can renegotiate the contract with their hauler and use a smaller trash bin,” said Bressack. “Theoretically, it will cost less down the road.”


Surrounding states make it law

Lesser scoffed at the logistical issues, which he said could be easily overcome, citing the options of compostable trash bags and the rinsing mechanism built into trucks designed to haul compost. However, he does expect that composting will make costs rise for small businesses. “It comes down to enough people seeing the value and wanting to do it,” he stated. Or, both Lesser and Bergkamp pointed out, the government is likely to make them do it.

Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut have mandated composting, and Rhode Island is considering a similar measure. Vermont’s law requires all residents to recycle or compost food waste by 2020, prohibiting the disposal of compostable materials in landfills.

“When nearby states pass this kind of law,” said Bergkamp, “New York usually follows suit. Why wait till it’s mandated when we can be ahead of the game?” At this point, Ulster and Onondaga Counties have the only municipal composting units in the state.

The WOW members, recognizing the potential of governmental clout, are crafting a resolution that they hope the Woodstock town board will adopt by way of encouraging — not requiring — local restaurants to compost their organic waste. The three women have been researching resolutions passed by other municipalities, such as Seattle and Gainesville, Florida, as well as studying composting programs established in other parts of the country.

Dan Leader, proprietor of Bread Alone bakery in Boiceville, operates three cafes in the Hudson Valley, including one in Woodstock. He is in favor of composting. “We’d love to be part of it,” he said. “We’re constantly trying to reduce our waste. If we can do it, there will be no hesitation on our part.”

To join the volunteer efforts of Woodstock Organic Waste, contact Jo Yanow-Schwartz at 845-679-4024 or For more information on local large-scale composting, see and


A local case of composting
The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park has been separating and shipping out their compostables for the past 20 years. Andra Sramek, Supervisor of Grounds, Recycling, and Horticulture, said the process goes smoothly. Each of the 42 kitchens and five public restaurants has three bins, designated for trash, recycling, and composting. Contents of the compost bins are carried out to a 20-cubic-yard dumpster, and the compostables are picked up twice a week.
The school has a long-term relationship with McEnroe Organic Farms, which has a 1000-acre spread in Millerton in northern Dutchess County. The farm runs an extensive composting operation under a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Two million pounds of compostables per year are transported from CIA to McEnroe by Liberta Brothers, a hauler based in Pine Plains.
CIA has the advantage of free labor in the form of students who carry the compost to the dumpster and rinse the bins. On the other hand, a new class of students turns over every three weeks, so the training process is ongoing. Each spring, McEnroe delivers a load of finished compost to the school for application to the onsite gardens. Sramek said the students love to see the end result of their labors in the form of rich soil amendments, even if the substance they’re seeing was produced by the efforts of a past class.

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Gothamist: Foam Container Ban

Foam Container Ban Poised To Pass On Thursday


Foam food containers are one step closer to extinction, thanks to a bill that's poised to pass tomorrow.

The proposal to ban polystyrene (not Styrofoam—that's a brand name that refers specifically to packing foam) has been met with powerful resistance from entities like the American Chemistry Council and Dart Container, which has an obvious interest in continued production. According to Crain's, Dart dropped its opposition to the ban on Monday, on the basis of an amendment that mandates a one-year recycling test, during which it must prove that recycling plastic foam is "feasible and economical."

“While it is clear that this legislation singles out and unfairly maligns a quality, cost-effective, and safe line of products, we are suspending further opposition as we believe it is in the best interests of all parties that we turn our attention to successfully passing the recycling test,” said Dart Container’s director of recycling Michael Westerfield in a statement.

The amendment delays the ban until January 1, 2015, in order to give the new administration a full year to pilot a recycling program. The earliest it would actually go into effect is July 1, 2015.

Polystyrene, however, is notoriously difficult to recycle, since it tends to break into balls, which interferes with recycling other less pesky products. Most importantly, there just isn't much of a market for recycled polystyrene.

By Lauren Evans in News on Dec 18, 2013 

Full Article here:  Gothamist

You Can't Compost Meat (And Other Ridiculous Myths)

11/14/2013 // By David Goodman

Fotolia_38502264_Subscription_XL use jpg.jpg

Most of us have read articles on “how to compost.” Some of us (like me… your friendly neighborhood mad scientist) have read many thousands of pages on the subject.

If you listen to the experts, the process sounds like a pain in the neck. No meat! No bread! No oils! No paper! Make a nice set of boxes! Put hardware cloth and motion detectors in to control rats! Get the C/N ratio right! Ensure a thermophilic reaction! Ask your neighbors first! Keep it moist but not wet! Check with local authorities! Turn it monthly – weekly – daily – hourly!

Yikes... no wonder we keep throwing banana peels in the trash.

It’s time to take a deep breath and re-think composting.

At a basic level, composting is simply a process of rot you can harness to feed your plants. To get started right now, you don’t need bins or a mix of “browns and greens.” Compost is like magic – you take “waste” and make it into a resource. Every bit of organic material that passes through your household can be returned to the soil. All you need is a shovel. Got a garden bed? Dig a trench and dump in food scraps, egg shells, bones, leftovers, even junk mail (not the glossy stuff or envelopes with plastic windows, obviously) and then bury it. Congratulations – you’ve just added nutrients back to the soil and there’s no smell, no infrastructure, and little trouble. If you’ve buried it deep enough, the critters aren’t a problem – and as long as you’re not burying piles of sawdust or tons of paper, “nitrogen robbing” won’t be a big deal.

You’ve probably heard how the Indians taught the Pilgrims to bury fish carcasses beneath corn plants. That’s composting. I followed their lead and buried organ meat, humanure (we had a great composting toilet system going at one point) and rotten leftovers in 2 - 3' deep holes and then covered them with a mound of dirt. A month or two later, I planted squash and sunflower seeds on the hills. I’ll tell you what – the plants didn’t need any additional fertilizing. We've done this multiple times and those areas remain fertile for years. (I call them "Melon Pits... you can read more about the process here and here).

The ground consumes anything dangerous and the plant roots then take what they want. Easy.

Of course, if you want compost for your garden, you do need to follow a few more rules – but they’re not tough. The reason extension agents don’t recommend adding certain ingredients to your pile is because they can attract vermin, create odors and fail to break down quickly or safely in a typical backyard pile. It’s not because they’re useless as soil amendments.

I confess: I’m not neurotic about creating “perfect” compost. I create a few large piles a year to feed my wife’s raised beds and my collection of fruit trees. I just mix a collection of green and brown things together and let nature take its course. If you’ve got some coffee grounds (some coffee shops give them away for free), grass clippings, garden thinnings, kitchen scraps and that sort of thing, mix them together in a pile and wet it as you go. It WILL rot, even if it isn’t as fast as you’d like. Turn it when you remember and it will break down faster. Get the mix of carbon and nitrogen correct and it will convert much faster – but even if you’re totally lazy, it will eventually become beautiful compost.

Every time I drive through town, I see piles of leaves, branches, grass clippings, tree trunks, pine needles and other rich organic matter lying by the road, waiting to be picked up by waste management. WHY? Because people don’t realize what they’re doing! By sending all that organic material off their property – they’re exporting their soil’s fertility… only to later purchase some back in plastic bags marked with numbers like “10-10-10.”

Think about it: a plant or a tree pulls up nutrients from deep in the soil and uses them, along with solar energy and water, to grow. All parts of that plant are useful! Don’t chuck it by the side of the road! You’re leaving your piece of earth less fertile than it was before.

Logs and sticks can be piled into corners to rot – or even buried as long-term moisture reservoirs for the soil (look up “hugelkultur” online – it’ll blow your mind). Leaves and grass clippings can be used as mulch or put in a compost pile. Pine needles are good mulch for acid-loving plants such as roses, azaleas and blueberries. Over time, all that plant material will break down and become part of the soil again, whether or not you make a nice, neat, highly managed system.

God designed things in nature to constantly cycle. Grab a piece of that cycle today and your plants will thank you tomorrow.

Now quick – go pull that banana peel out of the trash!

For daily gardening madness, visit David's blog at

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Massive Garbage Pile in Pacific Ocean

What is the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch?

Mother Nature Network // Russell McLendon

Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.jpg

A swirling sea of plastic bags, bottles and other debris is growing in the North Pacific, and now another one has been found in the Atlantic. But how did they get there? And is there anything we can do to clean them up?

Not all garbage ends up at the dump. A river, sewer or beach can't catch everything the rain washes away, either. In fact, Earth's largest landfill isn't on land at all.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch stretches for hundreds of miles across the North Pacific Ocean, forming a nebulous, floating junk yard on the high seas. It's the poster child for a worldwide problem: plastic that begins in human hands yet ends up in the ocean, often inside animals' stomachs or around their necks. This marine debris has sloshed into the public spotlight recently, thanks to growing media coverage as well as scientists and explorers who are increasingly visiting the North Pacific to see plastic pollution in action.

What's it made of?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has sometimes been described as a "trash island," but that's a misconception, says Holly Bamford, director of NOAA's Marine Debris Program. If only things were that simple.

"We could just go out there and scoop up an island," Bamford says. "If it was one big mass, it would make our jobs a whole lot easier."

Instead, it's like a galaxy of garbage, populated by billions of smaller trash islands that may be hidden underwater or spread out over many miles. That can make it maddeningly difficult to study — Bamford says we still don't know how big the garbage patch is, despite the oft-cited claim that it's as big as Texas.

"You see these quotes that it's the size of Texas, then it's the size of France, and I even heard one description of it as a continent," she says. "That alone should lend some concern that there's not consistency in our idea of its size. It's these hot spots, not one big mass. Maybe if you added them all up it's the size of Texas, but we still don't know. It could be bigger than Texas."

While there's still much we don't understand about the garbage patch, we do know that most of it's made of plastic. And that's where the problems begin.

Unlike most other trash, plastic isn't biodegradable — i.e., the microbes that break down other substances don't recognize plastic as food, leaving it to float there forever. Sunlight does eventually "photodegrade" the bonds in plastic polymers, reducing it to smaller and smaller pieces, but that just makes matters worse. The plastic still never goes away; it just becomes microscopic and may be eaten by tiny marine organisms, entering the food chain.

About 80 percent of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land, much of which is plastic bags, bottles and various other consumer products. Free-floating fishing nets make up another 10 percent of all marine litter, or about 705,000 tons, according to U.N. estimates. The rest comes largely from recreational boaters, offshore oil rigs and large cargo ships, which drop about 10,000 steel shipping containers into the sea each year, full of things like hockey gloves, computer monitors, resin pellets and LEGOs. But despite such diversity — and plenty of metal, glass and rubber in the garbage patch — the majority of material is still plastic, since most everything else sinks or biodegrades before it gets there.

How is it formed?

Earth has five or six major oceanic gyres — huge spirals of seawater formed by colliding currents — but one of the largest is the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, filling most of the space between Japan and California. The upper part of this gyre, a few hundred miles north of Hawaii, is where warm water from the South Pacific crashes into cooler water from the north. Known as theNorth Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, this is also where the trash collects.

Bamford refers to the convergence zone as a "trash superhighway" because it ferries plastic rubbish along an elongated, east-west corridor that links two spinning eddies known as the Eastern Garbage Patch and the Western Garbage Patch. The whole system collectively makes up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

It may take several years for debris to reach this area, depending on its origin. Plastic can be washed from the interiors of continents to the sea via sewers, streams and rivers, or it might simply wash away from the coast. Either way, it can be a six- or seven-year journey before it's spinning around in the garbage patch. On the other hand, fishing nets and shipping containers often fall right in with the rest of the trash. One of the most famous such debris spills came in 1992, when 28,000 rubber ducks fell overboard in the Pacific Ocean. The ducks continue to turn up on beaches around the world to this day.

What's the problem?

Marine debris threatens environmental health in several ways. Here are the main ones:

• Entanglement: The growing number of abandoned plastic fishing nets is one of the greatest dangers from marine debris, Bamford says. The nets entangle sealssea turtles and other animals in a phenomenon known as "ghost fishing," often drowning them. With more fishermen from developing countries now using plastic for its low cost and high durability, many abandoned nets can continue fishing on their own for months or years. One of the most controversial types arebottom-set gill nets, which are buoyed by floats and anchored to the sea floor, sometimes stretching for thousands of feet.

Virtually any marine life can be endangered by plastic, but sea turtles seem especially susceptible. In addition to being entangled by fishing nets, they oftenswallow plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish, their main prey. They can also get caught up in a variety of other objects, such as this snapping turtle that grew up constricted by a plastic ring around its body.

 Small surface debris: Plastic resin pellets are another common piece of marine debris; the tiny, industrial-use granules are shipped in bulk around the world, melted down at manufacturing sites and remolded into commercial plastics. Being so small and plentiful, they can easily get lost along the way, washing through the watershed with other plastics and into the sea. They tend to float there and eventually photodegrade, but that takes many years. In the meantime, they wreak havoc with sea birds such as the short-tailed albatross.

Albatross parents leave their chicks on land in Pacific islands to go scour the ocean surface for food, namely protein-rich fish eggs. These are small dots bobbing just below the surface, and look unfortunately similar to resin pellets. Well-meaning albatrosses scoop up these pellets — along with other floating trash such as cigarette lighters — and return to feed the indigestible plastic to their chicks, which eventually die of starvation or ruptured organs. Decaying albatross chicks are frequently found with stomachs full of plastic debris (see photo above).

• Photodegradation: As sunlight breaks down floating debris, the surface water thickens with suspended plastic bits. This is bad for a couple of reasons. First, Bamford says, is plastic's "inherent toxicity": It often contains colorants and chemicals like bisphenol-A, which studies have linked to various environmental and health problems, and these toxins may leach out into the seawater. Plastic has also been shown to absorb pre-existing organic pollutants like PCBs from the surrounding seawater, which can enter the food chain — along with BPA and other inherent toxins — if the plastic bits are accidentally ingested by marine life.

What can we do?

The discoverer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Capt. Charles Moore, once said a cleanup effort "would bankrupt any country and kill wildlife in the nets as it went."

"He makes a really good point there," Bamford says. "It's very difficult."

Still, NOAA conducts flyovers to study the garbage patch, and two research teams recently sailed there to collect debris and water samples. Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography held a press conference after returning from their three-week voyage in 2009, describing the amount of trash as "shocking." They found large and small items as well as a vast underwater haze of photodegraded plastic flakes, and are now analyzing their samples to figure out how the plastic interacts with its marine environment.

Meanwhile, the international Project Kaisei team also recently spent time in the garbage patch, studying its contents in hopes of eventually recycling them or turning them into fuel. And "adventure ecologist" David de Rothschild is pushing on with plans to sail around the garbage patch in a boat made entirely of recycled plastics, taking a test voyage earlier this month after a long delay due to construction trouble. Called "Plastiki," the ship is intended to highlight the connection between plastic trash on land and plastic trash at sea — an increasingly evident link, thanks not only to media attention for the Pacific patch, but also the recent discovery of a similar patch in the North Atlantic.

Ultimately, more plastic recycling and wider use of biodegradable materials is the best hope for controlling these garbage patches, Bamford says, but that's an uphill battle.

"We need to turn off the taps at the source. We need to educate people on the proper disposal of things that do not break up, like plastics," she says. "Opportunities for recycling have to increase, but, you know, some people buy three bottles of water a day. As a society, we have to get better at reusing what we buy."

Taken from: MNN  





I love composting all the kitchen scraps I can but when I fill up mycompost bin or run low on some vegetables in the garden usingkitchen scraps to grow plants is a great activity. I love using kitchen scraps to start new plants as a fungardening activity with my son, everyday we check and see how the plants are progressing. It’s a great way to come full circle on produce we bout at the market together and cooked together. Starting your own plants from kitchen scraps is really easy and for a gardening nerd like me!

If You are going to attempt this I suggest making sure the scraps you start with are good quality, I like to use organic produce grown locally when I start plants from kitchen scraps.


You could go out and buy some vegetable specifically for growing but I like to wait till I actually have a call for them in my cooking. With all 5 of these examples you will use the end of the vegetable with the white roots. 

Take the left over white roots and place them in a container with a small amount of water in it. You want the roots to be wet but you don’t want the entire thing submerged. Take your container and place it in a sunny window sill. I’ve actually grown green onion scraps in a fairly shady window on the north side of our house, your success may vary. I like keeping some in a window 

in the kitchen

 for my morning eggs, and in my office for snacking on (the wife loves kissing me after that). Within 3-5 days you will begin to see new growth come up. Remove the produce as you need and just leave the roots in the water to continually harvest your kitchen scrap crops. You should refresh the water weekly to keep the plant healthy.



Lemon grass from kitchen scraps

Lemongrass is similar to all other grasses and because of that you just need to place the roots you cut off into a container with water and put in a sunny window. In my experience the lemongrass is a little more dependent than green onions and leeks from above.

After about a week there should be some new growth from your lemongrass. Once you have new growth you will need to transplant the plant from the water into a pot with soil and put it back into the sunny windowsill. You want to wait till your lemongrass reaches a foot tall before you begin harvesting it. Just like before cut off what you plan to use in the kitchen and allow the roots to continue to sprout. It’s just like cutting your lawn, it will just keep coming on if you keep it healthy.



Just like the scallions, you will take the white roots of these vegetables to grow your produce. By cutting of the stalks or leafs with an inch or more and placing them into a bowl of water with the roots facing down you will be on your way. You want to make sure the roots are in water but you don’t want to submerge the entire plant. Make sure to place the bowl into a sunny window and spritz it with water weekly to keep the top of the plant moist.

Several days later you will begin to see the roots and leaves sprouting. 7 to 10 days in remove the plant from the water and plant it into soil with only the leaves above the soil. Your plant will continue to grow and in several weeks you will have a new head ready to be harvested.

If you want a different way to go with your pant you can try planting directly into the soil, skipping the water staging step from before. Keeping the soil from drying out will be very important that first week.



If you’re looking for an easy plant to grow indoors Ginger is the one for you. Just take you’re a chunk of Ginger from your kitchen scraps and place it into the soil. Make sure the newest buds are facing up. Unlike the other plants we’ve talked about so far Ginger will enjoy filtered light rather than direct sunlight.

Soon enough you will begin to see new growth sprouting up out of the soil, and under the soil roots will begin to sprawl out into the soil. After the plant acclimates to itsnew home you will be ready to harvest the next time you need Ginger. Pull the entire plant out of the soil and cut off a the pieces you need, and just replant it like you did initially.

As an added bonus for you Ginger makes a great house-plant. Even if ginger isn’t your thing as far as cooking goes you can still get some aesthetic value out of the plant.



Taking potatoes from produce back to growing is a great way to keep more waste out of the garbage. You can grow any variety of potato you like, it should just make sure the scrap has ‘eyes’ growing on it. With a potato that has a strong presence of eyes you can chop it up into 2 inch square pieces. Make sure each piece has 1 – 2 eyes. After you’ve cut your potato into pieces leave them out in room temperature for a couple of days. Leaving the pieces out allow the cut surface area to dry out and become callous which will prevent the pieces from rotting in the ground.

Potatoes need a very nutrient-rich soil, so if you have compost you should be sure to incorporate some into your soil before you plant it. When you are planting your potato cubes make sure they are in the 8 inch depth range with the eyes facing the sky. When you back fill your cube place 4 inches over the potato cube and leave the other 4 inches empty. Over time as your potato grows and roots begin to appear you will want to add more soil.




Organic Gardening

Nature creates compost all the time without human intervention. But gardeners can step in and speed up the composting process by creating the optimal conditions for decomposition: Air + Water + Carbon + Nitrogen = Compost

Air. Like most living things, the bacteria that decompose organic matter, and the other creatures that make up the compost ecosystem, need air. Compost scientists say compost piles need porosity—the ability for air to move into the pile. I like to think of porosity in terms of fluffiness. A fluffy pile has plenty of spaces—or pores—for air to move about. A flat, matted pile of, say, grass clippings does not. Even fluffy piles compress during the composting process. Occasionally turning your pile refluffs the material, moves new material into the center, and helps improve air flow into the pile, says Craig Cogger, Ph.D., extension soil scientist at Washington State University.

Water.  Compost microbes also need the right amount of water. Too much moisture reduces airflow, causes temperatures to fall, and can make the pile smell; too little water slows decomposition and prevents the pile from heating. Conventional wisdom says that compost should feel like a wrung-out sponge, says Abigail Maynard, Ph.D., agricultural scientist at the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station.

Carbon ingredients. The microbes that break down organic matter use carbon as an energy source. Ingredients with a high percentage of carbon are usually dry and brown or yellow in color. The most common high-carbon ingredients are leaves, straw, and corn stalks. Sometimes people call these ingredients browns.

Nitrogen ingredients. Microbes need nitrogen for the proteins that build their tiny bodies. Ingredients high in nitrogen are generally green, moist plant matter, such as leaves, or an animal by-product, such as manure. These ingredients are called greens, but in reality they can be green, brown, and all colors in between.

C/N ratio. In order for a compost pile to decompose efficiently, you need to create the right ratio of carbon (C) to nitrogen (N) (C/N). Piles with too much nitrogen tend to smell, because the excess nitrogen converts into an ammonia gas. Carbon-rich piles break down slowly because there's not enough nitrogen for the microbe population to expand. An ideal compost pile should have a 30:1 C/N ratio. Grass clippings alone have about a 20:1 C/N ratio. Adding one part grass clippings, or other green, to two parts dead leaves, or other brown, will give you the right mix.


Building a Compost Pile

There are two main ways to make compost: cold compost (minimum effort) and hot compost (maximum effort).

Cold Black Gold
Nearly every expert I talked with admitted (sometimes sheepishly) that they do this type of composting in their own back yards because it’s easy. Here’s how to make cold compost: Mix together yard wastes, such as grass clippings, leaves, and weeds, place them in a pile, and wait 6 to 24 months for the microorganisms, earthworms, and insects to break down the material. Add new materials to the top of the pile. You can reduce the waiting period by occasionally turning the pile and monitoring and adjusting the pile’s moisture level. The compost will be ready when the original ingredients are unrecognizable. Generally, compost on the bottom of the pile “finishes” first. You may not want to include woody material, because it breaks down too slowly.

Pros: Takes little effort to build and maintain; can be built over time.
Cons: Takes up to 2 years to produce finished compost; doesn’t kill pathogens and weed seeds; undecomposed pieces may need to be screened out.

Some Like It Hot
Hot, or fast, composting takes more work and the right combination of ingredients, but you can get high-quality compost in under 2 months. Here’s how: Wait until you have enough material to create compost critical mass (27 cubic feet), which is the minimum volume for a pile to hold heat. Then mix one part green matter with two parts brown matter. Bury any vegetative food scraps in the center to avoid attracting animals. Check to make sure the mixture has the ideal moisture level. Continue adding mixed greens and browns and checking the moisture until you’ve built a pile that is 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet, or 5 feet wide at the base and 3 feet wide at the top. The microorganisms will immediately start decomposing, and their bodies will release heat. The pile will insulate the heat, and the temperature of the pile’s interior will reach 120°F to 150°F. Turn the pile weekly and regulate moisture levels. After about a month, the hot phase will be done, and the pile will finish decomposing at temperatures between 80°F and 110°F. The compost will be ready to use when it no longer heats and all of the original ingredients are unrecognizable.

Pros: Produces high-quality compost within 2 months (and sometimes as soon as a few weeks); can kill weed seeds and pathogens. (Organic Gardening does not recommend adding weed seeds or manures that contain human pathogens to compost—hot or cold—because uniform heating is difficult to achieve in home compost piles.)
Cons: Time-consuming; requires careful management of moisture, air, and C/N ratio.


Taken from