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Inside Toronto

July 7, 2009

Composting becomes a personal issue during strike

By: Danielle Milley


While many Toronto residents are getting frustrated waiting in lines to drop off garbage at transfer stations and designated dump sites, Karen Buck is keeping her cool.

The Beach resident is a bit of an anomaly.

"I think I could probably go for a year," she said of the strike. She's not exaggerating. Last spring a visit to her home revealed a month's worth of garbage as being a half-full bucket about the size of a bathroom waste paper basket. There were a few chocolate wrappers, disposable baby wipes (brought into the home by a guest), dental floss and bits of foil.

"I'm not a big consumer of anything (that is packaged)," she said.

Buck was surprised by the piles of garbage produced so far by Toronto residents - she thought it would be worse.

"Yesterday was the first time I saw piles of garbage and I thought it was a lot, but I didn't think it was as much as I thought it would be," she said.

She is hoping people are not using this situation to disregard our three streams of waste in the city.

"It's really important to have people keep everything separated still. To not give up and toss everything together," she said.

Buck said her stockpile of recyclables is still manageable and she has a trick about how she's dealing with organic waste.

"We are not creating a huge amount of compost each week," she said. "My strategy has been to wrap it in newspaper."

She said she's been saving her carrot and orange peels in small sandwich bags and every three days she takes the organic material out of the bag, wraps it in newspaper and places it in her green bin. The newspaper absorbs any of the liquid created from the breakdown of the material and helps keep the odour to a minimum.

By not purchasing food such as whole chickens or watermelon, Buck and her husband have been able to keep their organic waste to a minimum.

"I don't think I've filled a third of my green bin yet," she said.

They used to have a backyard composter, but took it apart when the city rolled out the green bin program.

"If the strike was to carry on we would rebuild our backyard composter and use it again," Buck said.

Others have also been finding ways to reduce the amount of waste they're having to deal with while 30,000 municipal workers, including the city's waste collectors, are on strike. Cathy Nesbitt, owner of Cathy's Crawly Composters, has seen her vermicomposting business double since the strike began June 22.

"It's been crazy pretty much since the strike was announced," she said. "The longer the strike goes on the better it is for us."

Her composters use red wigglers to turn organic waste such as breads, fruit/vegetable peels, coffee grinds and tea bags (no meat, dairy or sauces) into "black gold."

Summer is usually a slow time for Nesbitt's business, but instead she is getting a dozen new calls a day from Toronto. She was prepared for the upswing though. She started the business back in 2002 around the time of the last city worker's strike and was busy with orders from Toronto residents.

"People are really desperate," she said.

There have been many questions and concerns, mostly about smells and the possibly of worms escaping. Nesbitt explained the process is different from the green bin and there is no odour; and the worms won't escape. A red wiggler worm can eat half its weight in organic material every day, which means two pounds of worms could turn about six pounds of organic waste into compost a week.

Scadding Court Community Centre has found a way to pitch in. The centre in Ward 20 has set up a community organics site just as it did in 2002. The site opened Monday, July 6 and executive director Kevin Lee said as of Tuesday afternoon 25 people or so have taken advantage of the service.

"We wanted to make the service available to those in the community who are environmentally conscious," he said. "People have been very appreciative of the service while the strike is going on."

A four foot by four foot hole has been dug on the property to create compost that will be used in the community garden. They don't accept animal products or dairy, just like a regular backyard composter.

Lee said this community model is something the city should look at doing at small neighbourhood sites across Toronto. The problem with that, however, is provincial regulations govern the production of compost. There's a possibility the Scadding Court location could be closed; Lee said they are in talks with officials from the Ministry of the Environment.

Individuals can purchase backyard composters at various locations around the city to deal with some of the material no longer being collected at the curb.


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Bradford, Ontario
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