Now that spring is upon us it's a good time to start composting!  Well, it's always a good time to compost, but spring means warmer weather which means faster compost results.  Composting is a great way to dispose of scraps of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in spring and summer!

Wait... what is compost?

Compost is the end-product of controlled biological decomposition of organic material.  Using a mixture of food scraps and yard waste, the compost pile increases in temperature to facilitate decomposition (between 110-160 degrees F) to generate a nutritious product.  The material is a valuable nutrient-rich product that is great for new plant growth in gardens, lawns, and indoor potted plants.  Compost can improve the physical, chemical, and biological attributes of soil by making a better environment for plant roots, improving water-retention, suppressing soil pathogens, increasing soil infiltration to reduce runoff, and more!


What you need:

To start your compost pile you'll need a mix of materials for nitrogen and carbon.  Nitrogen "greens" include material that is wet or has recently grown, such as food scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds.  Carbon "browns" consist of dry or woody plant material, such as dry leaves, wood chips, and newspaper.  Alternate layers of browns and greens 4-6 inches thick in your pile.

A good mix of material should have an equal amount of browns to greens.  A mixture skewed too far in either browns or greens may not reach the required temperature for proper decomposition and may start to smell.  You must also monitor the moisture level of your pile.  This is done with the hand-squeeze test: take a handful of compost, squeeze it in your hands, and if a few drops of water appear on your hand the moisture level is just right.  If it is too dry, add water or more greens; if it is too wet, add more browns.

DO NOT USE meat, dairy, oil, pet waste, diseased plants, or weeds that have seeded into your compost pile.


How to use your compost:

Your finished compost should be dark in color and smell fresh.  It can be mixed with regular soil for lawns and gardens, used as mulch for landscaping and garden plants, and mixed into the soil of potted plants.


Attached are guides on how to build your own compost bin.  You can purchase a ready-made bin if that is more convenient!



Happy composting!

The average American produces around 7.1 lbs. of trash per day, and will generate 102 tons of trash in their lifetime. To give a bit of perspective, that weight is equivalent to every car made in Detroit since World War II! Every piece of food packaging, every old t-shirt, and all of those old phone cases that don’t fit your new one, all accumulate to form our individual 102 ton total. We have developed an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude that allows us to forgo responsibility once an item is thrown in the bin, so we often don’t think about where our garbage will end up. As convenient as it is to have our trash picked up and taken away, we have to remember that it’s only being transported to a different location, and it doesn’t disappear.

Minnesota strives to follow this order of waste management: reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, waste-to-energy (incineration), landfill. This shows that as important as recycling is, it should not be our primary goal. Yes, recycling allows us to reuse material in order to protect valuable virgin resources, but wouldn’t it be better if we refrained from using the materials in the first place? By saving those resources we save money and energy that would be spent on the manufacturing process, and the money that we would spend to buy the product. So the next time you think you need to purchase something, consider the following: 1. Is this item necessary?
2. Is it made of recycled materials?
3. Can I recycled it?
4. Can this be reused?
5. If the item cannot be recycled, how will it be disposed? The beauty of reducing one’s waste is that it is not an all-or-nothing commitment. There are some individuals who are able to reduce their waste to the point of not sending any trash to the landfill, and for others the most they can do is to bring reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. The best you can do is the best you can do, and that’s okay! Changing one part of your waste stream may seem inconsequential, but it can have a great impact in the long-run. These are the steps we have to take in order to change our attitude toward sustainable living. Besides being environmentally sustainable, reducing one’s household waste directly benefits the individual. First, you save money by purchasing food and products that do not have additional packaging. When you have less packaging, you don’t pay for the extra cost, your garbage bin does not get as full, and you can reduce your hauler costs and the amount of trash sent to the landfill. Second, you begin to eat healthier because food without additional packaging is usually fresh, nutritious, and not processed. Third, you will become more conscientious about your purchases, both with food and other products. This will lead to only buying things that you really need, which declutters your life and further decreases the amount of trash and unnecessary items in your home. I’m sure we could all use a little less clutter in our lives.  So why not start now?

In 1996, if someone had made the statement that Americans would buy 8.3 million gallons of bottled water in 2006, we would have said they were 'off their rocker'. But guess what...Americans did buy 8.3 million gallons of bottled water in 2006. (BMC, 2007). Read on for more eye-opening info:

*About 25-40% of bottled water is actually bottled tap water - sometimes with additional treatment, sometimes not (NRDC, 1999). *More than 50% of Americans drink bottled water; a third drink it regularly (Howard, 2003). *Bottled water costs between 240-10,000 times more than tap water (CRI, 2007). *In 2005, 96% of bottled water sold in the U.S. was packaged in PET containers, the majority in single-serving sizes of one liter or less (CRI, 2007). *Producing PET bottles uses more than 17 million barrels of oil and produces over 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide each year (Pl, n.d.). *For each gallon of water that goes into a PET bottle, two gallons of water are used to make the plastic bottles and in the purification process (Weaver, 2007; UCS, 2007). *462 million gallons of oil are needed each year to transport water bottles from the factory to the point of sale (SLC, 2007). *Only about 10% of plastic water bottles are recycled (UCS, 2007). Just thinking of all the oil and water - two natural resources that are 'in jeopardy' so to speak - used in the whole process, the pollution caused by the manufacture and transporting of said bottles plus the fact that only about 10% of the bottles are being recycled, should make us give serious thought to reducing our bottled water intake, right? Right!! Now, go enjoy a refreshing drink of water... from your tap !

Packed full of holiday activities, the last couple months are full of fun, stress, cookies, and a lot of extra waste.  With all of the extra food, gifts, and decorations, household waste from Thanksgiving to New Year's increases by 25%!  Now, I don't want you to lose any of your holiday cheer, but here are some tips on how you can keep your garbage bin a little less cluttered this season:

  1. Know how many people are coming to dinner so that no food will go to waste - and always make a grocery list!
  2. Bring your reusable shopping bags while buying food and presents.
  3. Use reusable dishware, utensils, and napkins for your gatherings
  4. Send electronic invitations 
  5. Limit the amount of wrapping paper by using reusable gift bags or fabric
  6. Consider gifting zero-waste items such as homemade goods, concert tickets, or an experience you know the person will enjoy!
  7. Use rechargeable batteries in your electronics and unplug your decorations when you're out of the house
  8. Purchase your food and gifts from local stores whenever possible
  9. Buy a tree that was grown locally and recycle or compost it after the season.  Or buy a potted tree that you can later plant in your yard
  10. Pay attention to your regular recyclables to make sure everything in the bin is cleaned and prepared correctly!

Happy Holidays!

Look in your refrigerator and take stock of what you see. You might see a mixture of fruits and vegetables, some processed foods, and leftovers from dinner the night before. Are you going to eat all of that food before it goes bad? Will your family? Your roommate? If the answer is yes, then you have accomplished something many Americans struggle with – wasting food. The National Resources Defense Council estimates that the average American family does not eat 20% of the food that they buy. Imagine walking out of the store with five grocery bags, dropping one on the ground, and walking away – not exactly something you would do intentionally.

There are a few ways that food waste occurs. “Wasted food” is wholesome, nutritious food that is thrown out in family residences, restaurants, grocery stores, and agriculture processing. This food is discarded due to cosmetic discrepancies, such as being the wrong shape, size, or color to be sold in stores, and if the store or family simply purchased too much food to be consumed. “Food waste” is spoiled food, unfit for human consumption, and uneaten food scraps that most often occur in households. We might leave food in the fridge for a little too long, or we notice that today’s date is a little past the date on the yogurt lid, so we throw it out. We do this out of caution (and because we don’t want to eat expired yogurt), but wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to waste that 20% of food?

Reducing food waste is something that we all can do and benefit from, regardless of social or economic status. You will save money by planning meals and knowing when a product is actually unsafe to eat. And as an added bonus, it’s good for the environment since there won’t be extra food taking up space in the landfill, which generates methane and contributes to the greenhouse effect.

Here are some tips to make to reduce your food waste:

  1. Not all dates on food labels are created equal. Here are the three most common labels and what they mean:
    a. “Sell by” – This date is solely for store shelf stocking, to make sure that all products get time on the shelf. This is NOT an indication of the freshness or safety of the food.
    b. “Best by” – This date relates to the taste, texture, and quality of the product, but not to the safety of the food. You can eat the food after this date, it just may not taste how you might expect.
    c. “Use by” – This is the date to pay attention to, as it is an indication of the safety of a food product. Be sure to consume the product before this date.
  2. Be prepared when you go shopping! Plan your meals, make a list, and know exactly how much you need so nothing goes to waste.
  3. Know how to store your produce. Proper storage will ensure optimum taste and freshness of your produce and make your meals taste even better!
  4. Remember: first in, first out! Keep track of how long the food has been in the fridge and see what delicious meal you can make before you break open the new items!

So, what are you waiting for? Go raid the fridge!

Did You Know that burning garbage in burn barrels is far more hazardous than previously thought? The composition of garbage has dramatically changed in the last generation; far more plastics are in it than 50 years ago. Because of this fact, more harmful chemicals are being released into the atmosphere.

But that's not the whole problem... Low-temperature fires — such as those in burn barrels — release a variety of toxic substances including heavy metals, particulates, and dioxin. Since burn barrels do not completely incinerate the material, the ash and smoke can settle more quickly on nearby lands. This residue that settles onto the ground contains harmful chemicals such as Dioxin that can be taken up by plants and produce. Toxic substances in the ash can also leach in to the soil or water table. We encourage you to look into other ways to dispose of your garbage. Especially since much of the material frequently burned in a burn barrel is Recyclable! For more information please contact your local Solid Waste Office. Click the following link for an informational brochure.

Download this file (burn barrel brochure.pdf)burn barrel brochure.pdf271 kB

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