Tag Archives: compost

Pedal power: How Denver bike crews are rescuing food from landfills one ride at a time

Pedal power: How Denver bike crews are rescuing food from landfills one ride at a time

It’s a steamy Friday morning, and Christi Turner is elbows-deep in compost. Armed with yellow gloves and an equally sunny smile, she is undeterred as flies buzz and a strong stench rises around the Dumpster where she’s tossing animal skins, pizza dough and other heavy-duty food refuse.

Removing straws and recyclables from the fresh pile of waste, Turner cleans her gloves and the newly empty compost bins. Job done, she hops on her bike and sets off for another pick-up point.

This smelly operation is all part of a day’s work for Scraps, a small-scale, bike-based composting company that Turner launched this year. She uses a bike with a trailer to collect compost from restaurants and apartment buildings that otherwise would throw their extra food in the garbage. Multiple times a week, she takes to the side streets and thoroughfares of Denver to wheel organic waste to a container in the heart of downtown.

Then it’s picked up by Alpine Waste & Recycling, which transports the waste to a compost processing facility where it’s turned into hearty soil to be resold. In her first month on the job, Turner composted 3,734 pounds of waste.

“We want to make composting cool and easy,” Turner says while pedaling from RiNo, where she picked up the compost, to the Dumpster just off 16th Street. “We’re a last-mile solution.”

Turner is part of a growing movement to fill the gaps in Denver’s food waste management using bikes. Along with Denver Food Rescue, a nonprofit that saves food that would otherwise be thrown away from grocery stores and takes it directly to communities in need, Scraps offers hyperlocal solutions that the city and others may not provide. Both groups do the bulk of their work from bikes, allowing neighborhood-based programs and immediate deliveries without a middleman.

“I want Scraps to be a model of how bikes can get stuff done,” Turner said. “This is a way of moving ourselves around that shouldn’t be looked at as some sort of passion project. This is a means of mobility that is more sustainable.”

Despite expanding its composting services in recent years, Denver’s waste diversion rate is 20 percent, compared to the national average of 34. Denver composted nearly 6,000 tons of organic material in 2016, and this spring started two new compost pick-up routes. The city will add four more this fall, aiming to service almost all residential homes by the end of 2017. But Denver doesn’t offer composting to multifamily homes with more than seven units, said Charlotte Pitt, who manages recycling for the city.

Turner designed her business to fill this gap. Scraps started collecting compost in June and so far has only four customers — restaurants in the RiNo and Highland. She makes runs four times a week, saving an average of 350 to 425 pounds of compost on each trip. Soon, she’ll start servicing apartment buildings at a price of $10 a month and a $20 start-up fee for each unit.

“I don’t think we were even aware of how much trash we were producing until we started composting,” said Tabatha Knop, a manager at RiNo restaurant Work & Class, Scraps’ first customer. The restaurant has reduced its trash output by 75 percent.

Just a couple of months into business, Turner is inundated with requests for her services. More than a hundred individuals have expressed interest in using Scraps, and the number of restaurants it serves is growing, too.

“I think we’ll begin to see even more businesses utilizing bikes for delivery,” said Dan Grunig, executive director of Bicycle Colorado. “Bikes park right by the front door. Even though point to point, a car may be able to travel a distance faster, when you factor in the whole trip time door to door, bikes are a great option.”

This model has proved true for Denver Food Rescue, a nonprofit that has been operating since 2012. The program coordinates an ever-growing network of volunteers, who pedal between food distributors and neighborhood drop-offs to provide fresh food for underserved communities.

Denver Food Rescue tends to pick up food with a short shelf life, meaning there’s no time for the groceries to sit in a warehouse awaiting distribution. That’s where the bikes come in handy: volunteers wheel trailers packed with produce and other foodstuffs straight from distributors to 14 designated “no-cost grocery programs” throughout the city, located in Montbello, Chaffee Park, Elyria Swansea and elsewhere.

The immediate delivery means produce and other perishable goods are still fresh upon arrival. Turner Wyatt, the Food Rescue’s executive director, said 80 to 90 percent of the food they save is produce. And unlike many food pick-up programs, they don’t have a minimum pick-up requirement.

“We will go to a corner store and pick up one bag of food,” Wyatt said.

The bike-based, hyper-local model has proven so successful that Denver Food Rescue recently partnered with Denver Urban Gardens and Groundwork Denver on a program called Fresh Food Connect, which allows people to donate extra produce grown in home or community gardens. Youth employees use bikes and trailers pick up the food directly from donors’ homes. Starting this week, the produce will be sold at a pay-what-you-can farm stand on East 30th Avenue and Richard Allen Court every Thursday.

Denver Food Rescue saved more than 320,000 pounds of food in 2016 and is on track to rescue 450,000 by the end of this year. Almost all of that weight was hauled by individual volunteers, biking across the city.

“A big truck can pull a lot more than a bike can, but (this) saves a lot of fossil fuels,” said Sam Talarczyk, a first-time volunteer who helped deliver 222 pounds of groceries to the Cope Boys and Girls Club on Inca Street last month.

Passers-by cheered Talarczyk and other volunteers on as they whizzed down side streets from the Sprouts on East Colfax Avenue, trailers packed with food behind them.

“So many of our kids and parents are really into not quality; they’re into quantity,” said Julio Flores, the club’s site director. “They’re not thinking about healthy. They’re thinking about survival. This is giving them an opportunity to start thinking about other habits.”

Residents can sign up for city compost at www.denvergov.org/compostsignup and Scraps at https://scrapsmilehigh.com/join-here-1/. Compost from A1 Organics, which composts for both Scraps and the city, is sold at Pioneer Sand and Gravel.


I see this business model expanding over the next few years, as it should- the more methods to divert organics, the better.

Roadkill on Maryland highways is put to work … as compost (article)

Roadkill on Maryland highways is put to work … as compost

FREDERICK, Md. — It’s a sad, but unavoidable fact: Many deer don’t make it to the other side when trying to cross busy roads and highways.

But those deer that don’t make it to the other side can help Maryland’s roadside plant life — as compost.

“I [saw] it Saturday, so it might be a little bit stinky,” said Jim Fogle, a team leader with Maryland’s State Highway Administration, as he drove to the location of a deer carcass near an Interstate 70 off-ramp near Frederick, Maryland.

As part of his job, Fogle retrieves dead deer and takes them to an SHA site near Mt. Airy, where the carcasses will be composted into wood chips.

As traffic raced by one day, Fogle stopped his yellow truck at the place where he had spotted the particular deer. It had been out in the hot sun for two or three days, and the smell was knee-buckling.

“When you get a holiday weekend, and it’s 100 degrees out, yeah, they get pretty bad,” Fogle said. “You better have a strong stomach for it.”

It used to be that the state simply buried dead deer along the side of the road where they were found, but some 15 years ago that practice changed.

“What we’re doing is recycling these deer,” said SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar. “And after about nine months, we have a usable product that we can go out and stabilize soil with for planting of trees or big wildlife plantings.”

At the composting site, Fogle placed the deer on top of a big pile of wood chips using a front loader. With a pitchfork, he spread the wood chips over the deer until it could no longer be seen.

Maryland SHA team leader Jim Fogle spreads wood chips over deer carcass at a composting site in Mt. Airy, Maryland. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)

Once the carcass is covered, the smell virtually disappears. Something people who live in a group of houses nearby undoubtedly appreciate.

“We used to mix it with horse manure, and it gave out more of an odor,” Fogle said. “So we switched it. … We’re just using wood chips and it seems to be working fine now. We don’t get that odor, and so far we’ve been lucky with our neighbors. They’ve been fine with it,” he said.

With manure, Fogle said, higher temperatures are created inside the pile of chips. But even without it, he said, internal temperatures reach 80 to 90 degrees; and that’s enough to reduce the carcass to a little more than bones in about six months. The compost pile is used for roadside plantings.

The compost pile is used for roadside plantings.(Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)

Clearly, what Fogle does is not a job for everyone.

“I enjoy it,” he said, before adding with a chuckle, “Some people think I’m crazy.”

This is the smart thing to do with roadkill, and any animal carcasses for that matter.

Whenever my cat kills a mouse, or I find a dead bird near the house, I’ll put it in the compost pile.

Like any other organic material, it will break down into soil with enough time in a properly managed compost pile.

That’s funny that they tried using manure first- this is just more nitrogen and won’t help break down the deer effectively.

If he switches away from wood chips and over to leaves, grass and dead plants, he’ll shorten the composting process and improve his finished compost product, too.

Composting is a no-brainer 🙂


Interesting Article: Gardening this weekend? Beware of the compost

[ original article found here: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318106.php ]

Gardening this weekend? Beware of the compost

Published / by Honor Whiteman
a man handling compost
Inhaling or ingesting compost may raise the risk of Legionnaires’ disease.
If you’re planning to revel in some gardening this weekend, be sure to wash your hands after. New research finds that activities involving exposure to compost may increase a person’s risk of Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia most commonly caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila, which is found in lakes, streams, and other freshwater terrains.

Legionnaires’ disease is contracted when people inhale small water droplets contaminated with L. pneumophila. This may occur through showering using a water system in which the bacterium has grown and multiplied, for example.

One lesser known cause of Legionnaires’ disease is a bacterium called Legionella longbeachae.

First isolated in 1980 from a patient in Long Beach, CA, L. longbeachae is found in compost and potting soil. Studies have suggested that inhalation and ingestion of these products may cause Legionnaires’ disease.

For this latest study, co-author Prof. Patricia Priest, of the University of Otago in New Zealand, and colleagues set out to determine the key risk factors for infection with L. longbeachae.

The researchers recently reported their findings in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Gardeners should be cautious

The study involved 31 adults who had been hospitalized as a result of L. longbeachae-related Legionnaires’ disease, alongside 172 controls.

Over two summers, participants completed questionnaires detailing their demographics, smoking status, pre-existing health conditions, and any activities that might have exposed them to compost or potting mix, such as gardening.

The study suggests that gardening is a significant risk factor for Legionnaires’ disease; almost all patients with the condition reported gardening in the 3 weeks prior to becoming ill, which involved coming into contact with purchased compost products.

Washing hands immediately after coming into contact with compost products was associated with a lower risk of Legionnaires’ disease, though wearing masks or gloves did not appear to help.

Other risk factors for Legionnaires’ disease included smoking and a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Based on their results, the researchers say that gardeners should be cautious when handling compost products.

We recommend gardeners avoid breathing in compost or potting mix, by opening bags away from the face and keeping it close to the ground when moving it around. Also, always wash compost/potting mix off hands before putting them near the face.”

Prof. Patricia Priest

“Smokers and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease should be particularly careful to follow these safety precautions when gardening,” adds Prof. Priest.


I was pretty skeptical of this article when I first saw it, but after doing some digging, it appears that this link has been mentioned for several years now.

The takeaway from this potential risk is to wear gloves when you’re gardening, and wash your hands when you’re done- two actions you’re probably doing already.

In this Telegraph article from 2013, Legionella Longbeachae was found in 4 out of 22 store brand composts in the UK.

One aspect I don’t see mentioned is if there’s a presence of this bacteria in homemade composts.  Time for a soil test again?

A Project to Turn Corpses Into Compost (article)

[original article found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/science/a-project-to-turn-corpses-into-compost.html?_r=0 ]

Cullowhee, N.C. — The body of the tiny 78-year-old woman, gray hair falling over stiffened shoulders, was brought to a hillside at Western Carolina University still clad in a blue hospital gown and chartreuse socks.

She was laid on a bed of wood chips, and then more were heaped atop her. If all goes as hoped, the body will turn into compost.

It is a startling next step in the natural burial movement. Even as more people opt for interment in simple shrouds or biodegradable caskets, urban cemeteries continue to fill up. For the environmentally conscious, cremation is a problematic option, as the process releases greenhouse gases.

Armed with a prestigious environmental fellowship, Katrina Spade, a 37-year-old Seattle resident with a degree in architecture, has proposed an alternative: a facility for human composting.

The idea is attracting interest from environmental advocates and scientists. The woman laid to rest in wood chips is a first step in testing how it would work.

“Composting makes people think of banana peels and coffee grounds,” Ms. Spade said. But “our bodies have nutrients. What if we could grow new life after we’ve died?”

Scientists agree that human beings can be composted. Already countless farms across the country, including at least a third of Washington State’s dairy farms, compost the bodies of dead livestock. In some states, transportation departments compost roadkill.

“I’m absolutely sure that it can work,” said Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a soil scientist at Washington State University who serves on the advisory board of the Urban Death Project, a nonprofit that Ms. Spade founded.

The process is surprisingly simple: Place nitrogen-rich material, like dead animals, inside a mound of carbon-rich material, like wood chips and sawdust, adding moisture or extra nitrogen and making other adjustments as needed. Microbial activity will start the pile cooking.

Bacteria release enzymes that break down tissue into component parts like amino acids, and eventually, the nitrogen-rich molecules bind with the carbon-rich ones, creating a soil-like substance.

Temperatures reach around 140 degrees, often higher, and the heat kills common pathogens. Done correctly, there should be no smell. Bones also compost, though they take longer than tissue.

Ms. Spade has designed a building for human composting that aims to marry the efficiency of this biological process with the ritual and symbolism that mourners crave. Each Urban Death facility would be centered around a three-story vault that she calls “the core.” Loved ones would carry their deceased, wrapped in a shroud, up a circular ramp to the top.

There, during a “laying in” ceremony, mourners would place the body inside the core, which could hold perhaps 30 corpses at a time. Over the next several weeks, each body would move down the core until the first stage of composting was complete. In a second stage, material would be screened, along with any remaining bones, and the compost would be cured.

Ms. Spade estimates that each body, combined with the necessary materials such as wood chips and sawdust, would yield enough compost to fill a three-foot cube.

Weeks or months later, survivors could collect some of the compost to use as they saw fit, perhaps in their garden or to plant a tree. Ms. Spade foresees the rest going to nearby parks or conservation lands. Each human composting would cost about $2,500, a fraction of the price of conventional burial, Ms. Spade estimates.

She hopes to build the first facility in Seattle, then to develop a template that other communities can use for locally designed facilities. “Like libraries,” she said.

Ms. Spade, who smiles a lot, is the opposite of funereal; she buzzes with energy and sometimes has to remind herself to talk slower. She studied sustainable agriculture before going to architecture school. The composting idea was inspired by the “nurse log,” a fallen tree in a forest that grows new life as it decays.

Beyond the environmental benefits to composting humans, she believes there is a spiritual one: connecting death to the cycle of nature will help people face their own mortality and bring comfort to the bereaved.

Conventional burial is anything but natural. Cadavers are preserved with embalming fluid containing formaldehyde, a carcinogen. They are buried in caskets made of metal or wood, and placed inside a concrete or metal burial vault.

These traditions, though commonplace in the United States, are relatively new, beginning in the Civil War when northern families needed to get their dead men home from the South.

“American ingenuity,” said Gary Laderman, a professor at Emory University who specializes in the history of death in America. “Embalming stuck.”

Death rites can go from repugnant to normal in a surprisingly short time, said James Olson, a funeral director in Wisconsin and chairman of the green burial work group of the National Funeral Directors Association.

Cremation, for instance. “If I had told you 50 years ago that we were going to burn your loved one at 2000 degrees and pulverize their skeleton in a machine and give you back the crushed bone,” he said, “you would have said, ‘Eww.’”

He called Ms. Spade’s concept “wonderful.”

First, though, she and her supporters at the Urban Death Project will have to navigate an array of obstacles. Not least is the yuck factor.

Many Americans find the very idea of composting human bodies repulsive, a contravention of cultural and religious norms. One critic on the Urban Death website commented: “This MUST be a joke. If not, there’s only one word which could possibly describe your activities: SICK.”

Another commenter wrote: “A pile of bodies is usually called a ‘mass grave.’ Please stop what you’re doing.”

Then there are legal barriers. State laws vary: In the last few years, several have legalized alkaline hydrolysis, sometimes known as water cremation, in which bodies are dissolved in a heated mix of water and lye. But in many other states, bodies must be buried, entombed, cremated or donated to science.

Questions remain about how human compost should be used. Certain pathogens, like the prions related to mad cow disease, can survive composting, and livestock that have died from certain diseases are banned from composting.

Some experts recommend that livestock compost not be spread on fields where fruits and vegetables are grown for human consumption.

As with cremation, heavy metal contamination could be a concern; perhaps dental fillings would have to be removed from bodies. “There are many discussions to be had with the medical community and the health department,” Dr. Carpenter-Boggs said.

Ms. Spade, though, is forging ahead.

Recently, she and Cheryl Johnston, a forensic anthropologist at Western Carolina, returned to the university’s hillside research station. Twelve bodies lay decomposing in the open air, practice cadavers for forensic science students learning to analyze remains. Off to one side was the body of the 78-year-old woman, which had been donated by her family and had lain in wood chips for about three weeks.

After raking, scooping and brushing the chips away, they exposed part of the woman’s jaw and chest. The temperature of the mound was a cool 50 degrees.

“Nothing much has happened,” said Dr. Johnston.

Ms. Spade tried not to look glum. “I’m not surprised,” she said. “I mean, I’d be jumping for joy if it was reading 120 degrees.”

On a conference call the next morning, Dr. Carpenter-Boggs, the soil scientist, suggested adding nitrogen-rich material to jump-start composting.

For livestock, manure would be ideal, she said, but that was not appropriate for humans. Instead, she recommended alfalfa hay or pellets.

Ms. Spade beamed. “Who doesn’t want to be laid to rest in alfalfa?” she asked.


I think this process will pick up momentum due to its scientifically solid reasoning: We decompose just like everything else, emitting methane as we go.

Methane is a greenhouse gas contributing to our climate change issues we have… further, our soils are becoming depleted due to landfilling organics and displacing our excrement in sewers as opposed to composting it.

Burying humans creates a hefty footprint- whether it be wood, metal or formaldehyde, in addition to methane emissions.  Incineration generates a plethora of greenhouse gases, heavy metals and particulate matter.

It’s absolutely critical to return to where we’re from in the purest/most beneficial way…

There is absolutely nothing gross or disgusting about it.