Saturday, November 21, 2009

There IS No "Away" - My Beef with Green Bins

We have the green bin in our neighbourhood now. It's nice to have someplace for our kitty litter and dog poop and bones which clog up our digester, but I still use our composter for most food waste. And I'm still very wary of the program for a couple of reasons....

The bins collect meat, dairy, bones, and feces from carnivorous animals which have a high bacterial content. The stuff is mushed together and heated to high temperatures to try to kill off the bacteria, but it's not always successful. Then it's all used as fertilizer on our crops along with some sewage sludge. And we wonder how lettuce can give us e-coli which can be fatal.

A colleague asked, but what about the fact that people have used animal waste and their own waste on crops on the family farm for centuries. The key word there is family - it's a known environment. It's not a problem to fertilize with manure when you know the people and animals involved. It's only a problem if someone in the line-up is sick. And that's impossible to know when we work from such a large and unmonitored base.

It's the same with backyard composting compared to municipal composting. I know that my compost doesn't have any weed seeds tossed in or any leaves from a diseased tree in the mix. Municipally, I can't be too sure if the dope on the other side of town is as careful as I am. So the city wide compost could be contaminated and spread disease and weeds. If you want clean fertilizer for your gardens, don't get it from the city, make it yourself in a 4 x 8 box in the backyard.

The "biosolids" they're spraying on our crops could possibly cause us all to get very sick. We have this naive illusion that the government won't let that happen to us. But don't be so sure. It's been an issue in the White House gardens even. In Ontario, 2/3 of all sewer sludge is sprayed on crops. The EFAO has been working to stop the practice completely. But it's far too convenient a way to rid of the waste. Rain to the waters and sewage to the soil. And what isn't used by the city, is sold back to you at garden centers as garden compost. Through our taxes we are paying for the city to pick up our yard waste, let it sit a while to decompose, then sell it back to us. In our region, it's twice the cost of landfilling it, and 100% more than having backyard composters and digesters. On a related note, it costs the city more than half a million a year to collect leaves. Some insist they don't have room to compost, but if they've got room for trees, surely they can squeeze a composter under one.

But beyond the way its used, the green bins allow us to maintain an insidious belief that all our crap just goes away - like dumping garbage in a moving river. Look, it's all gone! But we're a closed system, and it's never all gone. The more we think it is, the more we'll create. If we have to deal with our waste ourselves, maybe we'll have less food waste. Every bit of leftovers will be finished.

After explaining this to a friend, he asked if he should continue using it. I said, "Sure." Try to be mindful of the fact that your crap isn't disappearing when the truck takes it away. And make sure you eat organically and that you know where all your produce comes from (because sludge is an organic fertilizer). Then read The Big Necessity.


Anonymous said...

Also read The Dirty Work of "Recycling" America's Sewage Sludge" posted on

The US Federal Clean Water Act defines sludge as a pollutant. Every institution, industry, and business can legally dump 33 pounds of hazardous wastes into US sewers; removing these and other contaminants from the waste water does not mean they magically disappear. The concentrate in the resulting sludge. AS Marle says: There is no Away.

Marie said...

Excellent article, Anon. It's frustrating to me how many people don't know about this or are just learning. Citizen groups are trying to ban the practice in some US municipalities just as we're starting to "compost" dog and cat wastes here.