Saturday, May 03, 2008

Don’t throw kitchen scraps and other food waste in the trash, recycle it to compost

Jonathon Tupper, Volunteer Coordinator for UMD’s Office of Civic Engagement with Kelenna Onyemore (left) and Izzy Laderman (right) – preschoolers at UMD’s Children’s Place.Jonathon is talking about a Beautiful U Day grant for $3000 (from U of M Twin Cities) he wrote to finance the worm bin.

Ellen Sandbeck with Shelby Johnson, daughter of Jen Johnson, Director of Children’s Place (Ellen is showing a worm bin to Shelby)

Photos by Mike Nordin

By Mike Nordin
What exactly is food waste and what happens to it in Duluth? I decided to investigate and discovered a few things.

Food waste, according to a Western Lake Superior Sanititary District (WLSSD) fact sheet, includes things we regularly produce in our kitchens like fruit and vegetable peelings and pits, loose tea leaves and tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, spoiled or moldy food (no liquids), cheese and butter, meat and fish scraps, fat, bones, baked goods, dough, pasta, rice or anything that is/was edible. Wow, that’s quite a list.

Quite often, food waste ends up going to the landfill. But there are other ways to dispose of food waste that make more sense. The WLSSD fact sheet also stated that “separating food scraps from your garbage is easy. Less waste to the landfill, and valuable nutrients are recycled to make Garden Green compost”. Compost is an important component in creating healthy, nutrient-rich soils, which can then be used for gardening. So, I walked down to Chester Creek Café, which now serves as the newest community drop site for food waste, to get the scoop, or should I say, scrap.

The staff at the counter knew immediately what I was talking about when I said “food waste”. They invited me downstairs to talk with Carla, the owner – she said right off that the café has been separating out their restaurant food waste for years! At the café, they have strategically located 5 gal pails with brown paper grocery bags to collect scraps. (Yes, brown paper grocery bags are ok, even at home.)

For kitchens at home, she said it’s really easy – all you need is some place to store your scraps and the Cafe will provide you with biodegradable bags and a code to access their food waste dumpster in the parking lot for drop off. So I headed home with my bags and code – ready to start.

I wanted to learn more about what to do when collecting food waste in our kitchen, so I contacted Susie Darley-Hill, Environmental Program Coordinator at WLSSD. I wondered if a chicken carcass could be thrown in – she said, “sure, but better freeze it in a rolled up newspaper (to minimize odors) until you’re ready to drop off the scraps”. For 10 bucks I purchased a stainless steel container with a lid to use with my compostable bags. I then wondered if everyone in the City could do this. She said “you bet” – turns out there are drop off locations throughout town – Willard Munger Inn, Marshall Hardware, the Materials Recovery Center (Rice Lake and Ridgeview Roads) and at WLSSD at Twenty-seventh Avenue West and Courtland Street (Yard Waste Composting Site).

There are also a bunch of businesses that sell biodegradable bags too - Marshall Hardware, Ace Hardware, Menards, Super One, Cub Foods and the Green Mercantile.

How about having a rich compost supply for a future home garden too? Garden Green is available for purchase but when I heard UMD was starting a worm bin in the Children’s Place Pre-School I thought I’d run up the hill to check it out. Ellen Sandbeck and partner Jim Naus, with Laverme’s Worms in Duluth were busy setting up a 100 gallon container for the kids to throw their lunch and snack scraps in – where 8000 red wiggler worms do the recycling. Even University of Minnesota, Duluth Chancellor Kathryn Martin was on hand to check this out! These worms are tough hombres and can break down old clothes among other things! Ellen has 15 years experience working with indoor worm composting and has set up systems for local elementary schools, prisons and colleges.

If you’d like to start keeping food waste out of the landfill and find better uses for it, stop by your nearest food waste drop-off site. Or call Ellen Sandbeck to start your own worm bin. By doing this, you may even be able to reduce the size of garbage container – lowering your monthly garbage bill.

You can also get in touch with:
Ellen Sandbeck - LaVermes Worms, Indoor Worm Composting (218) 721-4422 or ellen.sandbeck AT gmail dot com: and Susan Darley-Hill – WLSSD (218) 722-0761 or gardengreen AT wlssd dot com for more information.