Time is a particularly valuable asset when it comes to climate change. We know that it takes time to make lifestyle changes or to stay informed. The tips and suggestions below are concrete ideas you can tackle on your own that support the larger goal of a greener Canada.
All About Compost: How to avoid Food Waste in Your Own Backyard
It’s no secret that Canada has a food waste problem. According to Impact Canada, an initiative meant to help encourage innovation in the federal government, 50 per cent of all food in Canada is wasted every year.
On top of that, food waste is a big source of methane emissions. That’s not great either, because methane is a greenhouse gas, contributing to the warming of the planet even more so than CO2.
The federal government has taken notice and has created a slew of initiatives to encourage innovation in the composting sector. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has launched a $20 million Food Waste Reduction Challenge, with the goal of funding innovative food waste solutions.
Based on the 2021 Federal budget, food waste solutions are also being funded via a $1 billion commitment to support large-scale transformative clean technology projects.
There are a number of companies eager to make waves with composting technology and seeking federal support. One such company is Food Cycle Science, an Ottawa-based company that created an indoor food recycler, known as the FoodCycler.
Food Cycle Science is a semi-finalist in the AAFC challenge and received $225,000 from the federal government through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev) to commercialize their product.
Though the FoodCycler can be bought by the individual consumer, the company is working with municipalities across Canada, piloting the product as a tool to reduce residential waste.
In its advertising materials, Food Cycle Science describes the FoodCycler as being conveniently sized (it’s looks to be about the size of a toaster), odour free and its by-product will not attract pests.
All of this, the company argues, gives the FoodCycler an advantage over not composting at all, but it also claims to have a leg up on traditional composting, which, they say, has the potential to be smelly and bring animals to your yard.
All of this begs the question: are some composting methods better than others? And if your municipality is considering a FoodCycler pilot project, how does it stack up against other types of composting you can do at home?
Let’s do a deep dive into the world of at-home composting and find out.
The Basics of Composting
According to the Compost Council of Canada, composting is a natural process that happens when organic material, like grass clippings, fruit or vegetables are converted into what is called humus.
Humus is not that great dip made out of chickpeas. Humus forms the top layer of soil and has important nutrients like nitrogen in it that help plants flourish.
This happens naturally on forest floors when leaves, twigs and even bugs and animals die and decompose. Humus is loose and soft soil that allows water and oxygen to reach the roots of plants. It’s a really important layer of our soil!
I mentioned earlier that food waste is a huge source of methane emissions when it’s in a landfill. So, why aren’t forest floors emitting methane like crazy?
It’s because of something called aerobic bacteria. Aerobic bacteria require oxygen to survive. They are decomposers and live in the moisture around organic material. They do not produce methane.
Anaerobic bacteria on the other hand, do produce methane. These microorganisms don’t need oxygen to survive. Anaerobic composting gives off intense smells and it doesn’t produce humus, but a sludge-like material that needs to be incorporated with humus in order to be of any use.
That’s what’s going on when we throw our food waste in the garbage and it’s put in landfills.
Now that we know the basics of composting, we can explore the many ways individuals and municipalities can do it.
The Aerobic Options
Let’s start with the simplest: the compost pile.
This is probably what you have in your mind when you think about “traditional” composting. This kind of composting involves, well, a big pile of organic matter. But it’s not as simple as just throwing food scraps into a pile.
To makes sure you’re supporting those all-important aerobic bacteria, it’s important to make sure your pile remains moist, relatively warm and is mixed once a week to ensure that enough oxygen is getting to those bacteria.
And importantly, you can’t put meat or dairy on your compost pile.
For people with big backyards, or for those who live in rural areas, this can be a great composting option. However, if you’re lacking in space, other options might be more suitable.
We’ll turn next to the many boxes, bins and tumblers available to those with a bit of backyard space, but not enough for an overflowing pile.
Many of these work the exact same way as the pile, they’re just a bit more self-contained and require the purchase of some kind of container. Otherwise, there’s not much difference. They require your attention, to temperature, moisture and air flow.
For those with little to no outdoor space, fear not! There are still plenty of options for you.
The Other Options
Vermicompost is one indoor composting option.
This involves purchasing (or making) a worm box and special composting worms, all of which can cost over $200. Vermicomposting involves carefully feeding worms organic materials that they will turn into “casts”, which according to Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, are dark, odourless, nutrient- and organically-rich, soil mud granules that make an excellent soil conditioner.
So, not humus, exactly. But still good stuff.
If you don’t like the idea of worms as pets, that’s where counter top options come into play.
This includes things like the Bokashi bucket, which can cost over $100 and requires additional accessories like bokashi bran to help break down the food waste. You can put meat and dairy into a bokashi bucket and it is relatively compact in size.
This also brings us, last but not least, to food recyclers, like the FoodCycler. The FoodCycler process goes as follows: You put food waste, including dairy and meat products, into the unit. When its full, you plug it in and it dries out the food, grinds it all up and then cools it.
A FoodCycler costs $499 including odour filters and they are touted as being the easiest composting option out there.
The FoodCycler however, do not technically create compost. They create “sterile soil”—in part why it doesn’t smell—that needs to be mixed with bacteria-filled soil at a ratio of 1 part “by-product” to 10 parts soil in order to be of any use. The term used to describe the by-product created is an “amendment”: anything that can be added to soil to improve it.
And after all that, it’s the only composting method that requires electricity, an additional cost.
It is however, a small and portable device, making it useful for small spaces, like condos or high rise apartment buildings.
And while close quarters city dwellers can buy FoodCyclers, Food Cycle Science’s pilot programs are not happening in big cities. They’re in small, rural municipalities, like Smith’s Falls, South Glengarry, Renfrew and Georgian Bay and Trent Lakes in Ontario, Kenora in Manitoba and Nelson in British Columbia.
So why is this happening in rural areas and not in big cities?
Well, mostly because big cities in Canada have public composting systems and collect organics alongside recyclables and garbage, which we’ll talk about in Part 2.
We Finally Made it: the FoodCycler Pilot Program
Here’s how it works. The pilot programs give households a subsidized FoodCycler for $150 and households use them for around 12 weeks. Then participants will fill out a survey describing their experience.
Food Cycle Science is using this data to make a case for funding a long-term program and implementation strategy.
According to Food Cycle Science the overall response to their pilot programs has been positive. But that’s not to say there aren’t still questions about the viability of a FoodCycler in every rural Canadian home.
Let’s start with this whole odour thing. Food Cycle Science really emphasizes the lack of smell from its sterile soil format.
But aerobic compost—composting using a pile, a tumbler or a backyard bin—isn’t supposed to smell bad. If it is, that may mean your compost pile isn’t heating up and decomposing organics properly. Happily, this is something that can be fixed. It should smell like, well, dirt.
The second issue Food Cycle Science emphasizes is pests. In my urban mind, I thought rats, raccoons and squirrels.
I asked Sue Brandum, a ruralite living in Lanark County about pests. Lanark is thinking of doing its own FoodCycler pilot project and will make a decision early this year.
“In my neighbourhood we get the occasional bear,” said Sue.
That’s a big pest.
“But,” Sue continues, “I’ve never had one in my compost.”
“Raccoons seem very eager to eat the eggshells in compost. If you crush the eggshells and dry them out then that deals with the problem.”
Sue went on to add that, like people, animals prefer fresh food, not the slimy old bits that have been languishing in the crisper.
In short, pests, like smelliness, can be avoided with a little extra attention to your composting system.
In theory the big problems with compost that Food Cycle Science goes on about, don’t really need to be big problems. They can be solved. For free.
When it comes to whether your municipality is considering a FoodCycler pilot program, it seems clear that while the FoodCycler could be good for some (think folks with mobility issues), it is not necessarily a better substitute over your compost pile.
In fact, communities in other parts of the world are harnessing the power of the compost pile. Australia’s ShareWaste app connects people living in apartment buildings to neighbours with compost piles.
Ontario farmers are purchasing digesters, machines that create electricity out of methane produced by manure and other organics, which can also take organics from the community.
Thanks for sticking with as I explored the wild world of at-home composting! I hope you enjoyed the ride.
One of the first things we can do with our time is stay informed on climate news and actions in our regions and across the country. Many members of the Climate Legacy network provide informed, thoughtful articles and news stories about climate change and inspiring stories of climate advocacy in action.
- For our Grandchildren, a Peterborough-based organization engaged in mobilizing the community to take effective action to combat climate change, has a list of recommended books to read to stay informed about climate action.
- Below 2C offers well-researched information on climate issues across the country.
- Southwestern Ontarian Liz Armstrong has created a Handbook on Climate Action for Baby Boomers. It’s Liz’s way of tackling a seemingly overwhelming issue. Quite the retirement project!
- Published by Energy Mix Productions Inc., The Energy Mix cuts through the noise and makes it easier for you to track the most important climate change stories. Spend some time reading Special Reports, explore Webinars and Podcasts, and stay informed!
“It’s a real privilege to help readers keep up with climate news…Lately, we’ve been most interested in connecting with people and communities outside the climate “bubble” and discovering together how climate action helps them get the things they already know they need and want, faster and better.”—Mitchell Beer, Energy Mix Productions
Climate Change at Home
Greening your home, avoiding food waste and being a conscious consumer are small, yet important ways of addressing climate change at an individual level. Often these actions at home can support larger climate initiatives.
- Sustainable Orillia highlights the individual actions of Orillians, as they do what they can, in their own way to fight climate change. It can be as straightforward as changing your lightbulbs to LEDs, or weaning yourself off plastic packaging.
- Learn more about the Suzuki Elders and what led them to climate action through their video Five Suzuki Elders and their Stories.
- Sustainable Merrickville-Wolford is a group working together to contribute to a sustainable, socially just, low-carbon future. They have tips on how to move towards a zero-waste lifestyle.
- Check out Citizen’s for Public Justice’s 9 ways to reduce your GHG footprint.
- The Canadian Association for the Club of Rome’s (CACOR) developed a “plan to survive” which describes what everyone including seniors can do to prepare and cope with climactic change.
Nature all Around us
Even if you live in a city there are so many ways to connect with nature. Being in nature benefits our mental and emotional health, even if that nature is your collection of houseplants!
- Sustainable Merrickville-Wolford provides resources on buying local and planting a garden.
- Swapnil is an organization dedicated to enhancing Bangladeshi newcomers’ integration into the Canadian economy. The Swapnil Ladies’ Group has recently met to discuss how indoor plants can improve air quality in condos and apartments. You can watch the presentation here.
- Check out EH!’s resources on the importance of composting, for gardeners and urbanites alike!