Earls Doggy Bag…Composted

Posted: June 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

Earls Take-out

Earls Compostable Take-out Container

My wife went to earls and as usual could not finish her Hunan Kung Pao. She got a doggy-bag, which would be more aptly named a boyfriend-bag, which happens to be compostable. So, naturally it begged to be tested. I tore it up and threw it in. I looked for it 3 days later and found a some remnants – a week later it was nowhere to be found. Earls is also source separating their kitchen food scraps at a bunch of locations in the lower mainland and having them sent to an off-site composting facility which is great – most restaurants just chuck food waste in the garbage (and by most I mean 95%).

I am thinking of copying the Blendtec blender infomercials and calling this blog post “Will it Compost”. People can send me thier iPad’s and cell phones and I will see if they will compost…


Will it Blend?

gDiaper Gone

Posted: June 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

Yep, the composter ate the compostable diaper. It took over a week – I can only find evidence of a few small shreds of the outer casing still kicking around. We are using cloth diapers in the day and the compostable ones at night. I am going to start to put a couple a day into the unit to see how it keeps up. Unfortunately the diaper mass to food scraps mass we produce at home is too high to possibly put all the compostable diapers in the unit. And yes, the gDiaper at day 3 looks like a cabbage….

gdiaper compost

gDiaper at Day 3

Diapers in my Composter

Posted: June 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

gdiaper composterYes, that is right people. I am testing compostable diapers in this high-temperature home composter along with the food scraps. We just had our first baby (a boy) 9 days ago and are trying out a variety of diaper options – one being compostable gDiapers.
Since the composter maintains a temperature of 65C-70C for at least 2 hours, any potential harmful pathogens should be killed, but I am only going to put wet diapers in there to be safe. However, I suspect this smaller composter will not be able to keep up with the sheer number of diapers this little guy is producing (about 10 a day) as they must be too dry. I am going to start with one and see how long it takes to disappear and then ramp it up from there. This should be interesting.

Bag to Earth in my Composter

Posted: March 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

I picked up this compostable food scraps bag called “Bag to Earth” last week made of a kraft paper exterior and cellulose “water retaining” interior.

Bag to Earth

Compostable Paper and Cellulose Bag

I put wet food scraps in it for 5 days until it was full. Then I took it and put it directly in my in-vessel composter. It has been a few days and there are still traces of it, but I think it will soon be totally composted. Why am I doing this test when I could just scrape my plate into the unit? Imagine putting a larger in-vessel composting unit in the bottom of your condo, then distributing these bags to all the residents for inside their suites.
Inside Bag to Earth

Inside the Bag to Earth

You put your food scraps into it and every 3 to 5 days, when you are already going down to your car, or recycling room, you throw the whole bag of food scraps into the composter. No plastic bags to remove, and no taking a plastic bin back upstairs or washing – the ultimate in composting convenience for condos and apartments.
Bag to Earth inside composter

Prepare to be Composted


Soil Analysis

Posted: February 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

An important question about this composting unit is the quality of compost it is making and for what application it is intended for. So I took a sample of the final product (after letting it stabilize outside in a bin for 24 days) to a local testing lab. I told them the end use was intended for a community veggie garden. This is their response:

“Typical of most home compost solutions, the macro-nutrients are high while I would rate the micro-nutrients as being low. While I can appreciate the future for this compost being an incorporated additive for a mineral soil, currently deficient in fertility and organic matter, the excess of macro-nutrients and water-soluble salts will all be reduced from their compost alone status.”

I am not entirely sure how to interpret the last part of the sentence, but speaking with the lab over the phone it sounded like all I had to do was add some iron powder, mix it with a particular type of sand at a 1:1 volume ratio, and it was good to spread on the veggie garden. I guess the proof will be the cucumbers next year.

Mixing blade breakage

Posted: February 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

Note: On request from the manufacturer, I have changed the original title of this post to more accurately reflect the nature of the failure of the composting unit I experienced – a mixing blade broke, but the unit made compost right up to that point. The manufacturer also suggested that too many avocado pits may have caused the blade to break – so it is my negligence that caused it to break. I was also asked to mention that the unit was promptly replaced (as I noted originally in the post) and the new unit is working well and making compost, and that I was generously given the unit for free for product testing purposes – if I did not make that clear enough in the first post (see Let the Testing Begin). I also removed any colourful, subjective adjectives like “concrete”. I also stress that this is a standard consumer product review of my experience and that other consumer’s experiences, of course, may differ. Please be sure to review the comments section after this post to read the response from the director of the company.

Original Post:
Well, unfortunately the condo-sized composter broke itself after 4 months. I opened the lid one day to find a warning light flashing and one of the mixing arms sheared off – which is no small feat considering it is a 10 mm diameter stainless steel rod.


Sheared-off Mixing Blade

After investigation I found that the compost at the bottom of the unit was hard and I had to chip it apart with a screwdriver to empty the unit. I am guessing that if you do not put anything in the composter for a week or so, and the unit goes into energy save mode, the combination of moisture and heat may compact the compost. The unit was replaced by the manufacturer but I think some design changes are required – like maybe the blades should turn at least once every hour to mix the compost, so it does not harden.


3 months of food scraps

So I terminated the composting test after 86 days of adding food waste to the residential sized, in-vessel composting unit. The total mass of food waste that went into the unit over the 86 day period was 30 kg and the total mass removed was 9.2 kg for a mass reduction of 70%. That is a significant amount of organic material diverted from the landfill and certainly will result in reduced waste transportation costs and related carbon emissions for businesses. In this case, I will just go up to the roof in my condo where City Farm Boy is growing veggies and I will add it to his compost pile – 100% organic waste diversion. Also, the unit used a total of $4.76 in electricity over the 86 day period – pretty economical. The manufacturer states a 90% to 95% mass reduction – unfortunately I did not achieve that level. I think the larger, commercial sized units do a better job of breaking down the food waste – I suppose a commercial test demo will have to be done to verify.
Condo composter

Condo Composter

In Metro Vancouver’s 2010 Integrated Solid Waste Management plan, they identify in their strategy (2.6.2.e) to “Ban all compostable organics allowed in residential green bins from disposal to landfills and all forms of waste-to-energy except anaerobic digestion by 2015”.

What does this mean? My interpretation – all municipalities will implement curbside pickup of both regular solid waste and organics for single family residences. You will now have to separate your organics out of the regular garbage or they won’t take it away. This will be covered in your taxes for homeowners but the cost of operations will increase and be passed along. For apartment/condo dwellers, businesses, industrial and institutions, who currently pay for garbage removal privately, it is not clear on how this will pan out to me. Metro Van just mentions the development and implementation of work plans for organics diversion.

In addition to banning, the cost of sending waste to landfills (tipping fees), which are passed along to businesses operating costs, will be continually increasing to 2015 as identified on Metro Van’s website. Currently you pay indirectly or directly $82 per tonne to send garbage to the landfill – the Metro Vancouver projections for cost increases are $96 per tonne for 2011, $108 for 2012, $121 for 2013, $153 for 2014 and $182 for 2015. That is a $122% increase in the next 5 years. And which direction are fuel prices heading as well? The cost to transport garbage or food scraps from your business is comprised of primarily of driver labour, truck fuel, tipping fees and truck leases. If you compost on-site with appropriate equipment, say bye-bye to 90% of your fuel, truck and driver costs, and 100% of your tipping fees. Regional policy and market forces are going to make it very economical to invest in on-site composting equipment very soon.

Compost Boy

Okay, so far this has been a product testing blog about a condo sized, on-site, in-vessel,  composter.  But the potential for real impact, which includes saving money, saving fuel  and getting trucks off the road, is in composting on-site for commercial businesses – hotels, grocery stores, ski-hills, golf courses, restaurants, etc.

Commercial Composter - Restaurant Sized

Did you know some grocery stores have their organic waste picked up 3 times a day in the summer just due to the smell, not due to lack of space?  FYI it is not cheap to have a 1 ton truck come to your downtown grocery store 3 times a day.  On-site composters remove the water in food scraps (about 70%) and further break-down the  remaining material to 5% of its original weight while neutralizing the smell (via the oxygenated composting process and a filter), and the end product is high-quality, nutrient-rich compost that can be used for agriculture.  This on-site method vastly reduces the number of truck trips, fuel and costs.

Grocery Store Sized

In addition, businesses pay not only for the waste pick-up and transportation costs (which includes a truck, driver and gas) but also a tipping fee (the fee to dump at a composting facility or landfill based on weight),  and 70% of the weight in food scraps is water!  You are trucking and paying to dispose of water that you can get rid of on-site.  Why not get rid of the water first, turning it into water vapor, and turn the organics into compost, then call a truck to come pick up the compost to take back to a farmer instead of the landfill.  These units do everything for you – they turn the food srcaps, mix in the oxygen, keep the mixture warm, mitigate the smell, and spit-out the high-value compost (which actually can be sold to farmers).  All you have to do is dump the food scraps in and close the lid.  No other composting solution besides aerobic composting on-site is going to both mitigate the smell of rotting food waste, get trucks off the road and save the business money.  On-site composting seems like a no-brainer to me.

Compost boy

The Value of Condo Composting

Posted: October 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

People ask me “Why would I want one of these things when I can throw my food scraps out for free”?  From an economic standpoint, maybe you would not want one as waste removal is covered in your taxes “for homeowners only”.  However for condo dwellers, if everyone in your condo had one of these (or one central unit), your kitchen garbage would not stink, you would reduce the number of solid waste pickups (reducing your condo fees) and you could sleep at night knowing that you are making the most sustatinable choice in disposing of the waste you created.  People are starting to understand the value in buying locally grown food to reduce the cost and carbon emissions associated with transportation – so why would you then ship the food scraps 300km away? 

Here is an example,

City Farm Boy www.cityfarmboy.com grows veggies on the roof of my Yaletown condo.  I can buy carrots from him, cut the tops off, eat the carrot, compost the tops on my balcony in the automatic, in-vessel composter, and then bring the compost back up to the roof to put in the garden – the food and waste never leaves my building!!!  Now that is sustainable agriculture.

Here is a recent shot of the inside of the composter – dark rich compost and only $2.04 in energy costs for a month and a half!

Inside of Composter at 1.5 months