Posts filed under ‘Compost’
Earth Day may be over, but Waukesha County continues to provide environmental education programs all year long!
On May 8th, the Waukesha County Water Conservation Coalition is hosting it’s 1st Annual Water and Energy Efficiency Expo at the Waukesha County Exposition Center.
With exhibits, demos, stages and the kids zone, there is plenty of fun and education available for the whole family!
Radio Disney will even be hand doing their fun Backyard Show for kids of all ages!
At 10:00 am, keynote speaker Melinda Myers will be presenting on green gardening for Earth friendly techniques that are cost effective and time saving. She will also be available after speaking to meet and greet and sign copies of her book!
For more information, visit www.wisconsinwaterwise.org/
Hope to see you there!
My favorite way to teach people about kids about what goes in the compost bin includes a recipe for making edible compost. After we talk about what goes in the bin, we ‘review’ by making edible compost. There are several sources online for different recipes, but I thought I would share what I have used in the past.
First we talk about the bin — everyone grabs a cup to use for their ‘bin’.
Next we talk about starting the bin with a little bit of soil. Add crushed Oreos or Coco Pebbles for soil starter.
Then we talk about what to add to the bin. First we add brown things. I ask the kids to list some ideas of what would count as brown stuff. When the kids come up with twigs we add small pretzel sticks and when the kids say dead leaves we add Wheaties or Corn Flakes.
Next we talk about green things. I ask the kids to list some things that would be considered green. We add green colored coconut for grass clippings and dried fruit bits for food scraps. It may be appropriate to talk about the need for more browns than greens at this point, depending on the age of the kids.
Then we talk about needing air for the compost and we stir or shake the cups up to mix everything together. I also add that we are not going to add water to our mix because although it is necessary for real compost, it probably wouldn’t taste very good with our recipe. I tell the kids that when we are all done they can take turns getting a drink from the water fountain.
Last but not least, we talk about the critters that come to your bin and we add a few gummy worms.
I have found that it works best if the kids are sitting in small groups and if all of the items are off to the side and spread out on plates or in bowls. We talk about an aspect of compost and then a representative of each group comes forward to get the item for their group. 4 to 6 kids per group usually works well. Also, when a new item comes around I tell the kids how much to take (“Add 1 spoonful of coconut to your bin”) and then if there is any left in their group’s container, kids can take more. This is especially key when it comes to the gummy worms
I would love to hear from you if you use this activity or if you have done it in the past. What substitutions have you made? Do you have any additional tips or tricks?
Have you ever wondered what worms have to do with recycling? Vermicomposting or composting with a bin is helping nature recycle food and yard waste into valuable soil additives. Glue Gun Annie has a fabulous tutorial on how to make your very own vermicompost bin. These bins (Annie reuses a Styrofoam cooler) take one pound of red wrigglers which can easily eat 3 to 4 lbs. of food waste every week. These little buggers then supply you with castings, which make a great soil additive. If you are unsure about making the leap into full scale composting in a bin out back, this is a great and easy way to give it a try.
A few quick tips…
- Worms like cool temperatures. The best place for your bin may be in the basement, mud room, or other comfortable place.
- Worms don’t like to be bothered, so don’t put their home too near a washer, a dryer, or a rock concert.
- If your worms are trying to escape (i.e. they are all at the top of the bin every time you open it) there is something not quite right about their abode. Any problem can be attributed to food, air, or water.
- Too much food. This can also cause odor problems. Make sure you are not overfeeding your worms.
- Too little air. Fluff the bedding to make sure it is not too compacted and that there are enough air holes drilled in your container.
- Too much or too little water. Bedding should be as damp as a wrung out sponge. Adjust water levels accordingly. Also, instead of pouring water from a pitcher (how much would you like that if someone did it to you?) try using a spray bottle set to mist to keep the wrigglers happy.
So why not give the 4th R (Rot) a try? Have you ever tried vermicomposting? How did it work for you?
Last week we had a great group of local teachers take a course through the Sally Ride Academy. It was called Resources In and Outside the Classroom: Differentiating instruction in the environmental education classroom. Long title, interesting topic. Needless to say, the week flew by. Here are a few of the highlights.
We introduced natural resources and the importance of covering this topic with students. If we don’t know where things are coming from and what ecosystems we are damaging by our use of items there is less motivation to reduce and reuse. Many adults don’t know that bauxite is the ore used to make aluminum and that it is devastating to the Brazilian and Jamaican rainforests. Also coltan, which mostly comes from the Congo, is endangering the mountain gorillas. If you don’t care about the gorillas, its also important to note that coltan is usually mined by hand by children under duress. One teacher said at the end of the day, “Before today I didn’t know where I could fit natural resources into my curriculum, now I don’t know where it wouldn’t fit!” For a look at global CO2 production, visit breathing earth, which also has a wonderful carbon footprint quiz.
Field trips to the Waukesha County Materials Recycling Facility and Retzer Nature Center. Once the importance of natural resources was covered, we looked at recycling as a way to save natural resources, energy, and money. Many of the teachers had never been to the MRF and it was an eye-opening trip! If you have a group in Waukesha County that would like to take a free tour of our facility, visit our website to learn more! Once we saw the impacts of recycling we talked about the amount of food and other biodegradable items that we waste. Natures way of recycling these items can be sped up through composting. After visiting the compost demonstration area at Retzer Nature Center everyone realized how easy it is to compost and several teachers are interested in starting their own bins either at home or at school.
Compost is so important because it is a great way to bolster the overall health of another huge natural resource: the soil. Everything that is alive on the planet depends on soil. We had a lot of fun activities to look at soil, including core samples and basic soil testing experiments. A wide variety of information on soils can be found at the NRCS website or on Waukesha County’s GIS mapping system. There are several hundred soils just in Waukesha County, each with their benefits and problems.
One of the biggest threats to good soil is erosion. We have a model that shows erosion as well as point and non-point source pollution that can be checked out for use by Waukesha County teachers once they have been trained on its use. This activity was a lot of fun and we also showed how compost is the up and coming way to slow erosion and water pollution. Erosion is bad not only because it quickly washes away good soil that took a very long time to form, but it also pollutes water ways. This transitioned us onto topics of water pollution and using a groundwater model.
Although it may seem like natural resources, compost, recycling, erosion, soil, and water have very little in common, they all link together to assist us in having a healthy environment. If you have any questions about presentations, participating in a future workshop, or any other questions related to educational resources for local teachers, please e-mail me!
This video follows 2 students through their day to show ways that we can all save energy and reduce trash.
As smart2begreen points out, there are a lot of extra cardboard boxes floating around after the holidays.
According to the 5 R’s, the best thing is to try to reduce the number you purchased. I am assuming it is a little late for that idea this go around. However, in the future consider:
- Reusable boxes instead of ‘one-time-use’ gift boxes
- If moving is in your future, check out companies that supply reusable moving boxes like www.rentagreenbox.com or a similar service.
- Try to purchase things with less packaging.
However, since you already have boxes, reusing is the next best thing. For those who are extreemly talented (i.e. not me) you can make some really cool lamps or furniture from foldschool. If you can’t reuse your boxes, consider giving or selling them to someone who could. Put them up for reuse on-line at sites like craigslist or freecycle. Do you want someone to do the work for you? Check out U-Hauls free box trading message boards or see if your local U-Haul store collects them for reuse. U-Hauls and UPS usually will take packing peanuts as well.
If your boxes are too damaged for reuse, recycle them. For each bale recycled:
-17 trees will not be cut down
-7,000 gallons of water will not be used
-380 gallons of oil will not be used
-the energy saved is enough to heat your home for 6 months!
But what if your cardboard can not be recycled because it has been contaminated with grease? Procede to the 4th R – Rot. For composting information, visit our website.
And as always, if you must buy new – complete the recycle cycle and buy products made from recycled content (preferably post-consumer). Do you have any creative ways to reduce or reuse cardboard boxes? Do share!
Except that at current landfill rates, that means just throwing the trash in the landfill cost $4000. That does not count transporting it to the landfill. Then the price rises to over $8000. But who picks up the trash? Volunteers? This is probably the biggest cost…
With one of my New Years Resolutions being to reduce the amount of trash I make, it is lucky I ended up not going to Times Square for New Years Eve! My resolution would have been over before the year had begun. According to EarthFirst, 40 tons of trash were created by the one night event. There was a lot of buzz about the ball that was dropped being ‘green’, but clearly there is a lot more to do for a green event. Thinking about waste reduction not only would make the event cheaper (both because you would be buying less stuff and because you wouldn’t need to pay 163 workers over 8 hours to pick it all up)
By the city’s own admission, it makes way more (economic & environmental) sense for the city to recycle. Since I wasn’t there I don’t know if there was any special recycling receptacles set up for the event, but every other time I have been to the square, it has been difficult for me to find receptacles. Though less confetti was used this year, what about using confetti made from recycled paper and then composting it? Then the compost could be used in city parks to save on pesticide use the following year. (At least I think I have heard that NYC has a few parks, one quite centrally located…)
I totally get that Times Square is insane on New Years Eve. But that is the exact reason it is important for the Times Square Alliance to focus on waste reduction, reusing, and recycling the materials they use at their annual celebration. The 5 R’s allow every attendee at the event participate in sustainable behavior. Waste reduction is not as much the ‘it’ thing compared to talking about LEDs, but it is getting at the same issue: saving natural resources and saving money.
For more information about thinking a little about waste reduction, reusing, and recycling at your next event, visit the EPA recognized plan by Be SMART (Save Money and Reduce Trash). If your event is in Waukesha County, you may borrow free recycling containers by contacting our office via email (email@example.com) or via phone at (262)896-8300.
With this year almost done, a party conversation this past weekend turned towards 2009. Everyone seems to have a goal or a New Year’s resolution in mind. They ranged from the typical (loose weight) to the absurd (not eat jelly beans). One person in the group said their goal was to ‘go green’, but wasn’t really sure where to start. This (obviously) got me thinking. The first step for any change is assessment. When I was teaching, there was always some sort of a pre-test before a new unit. When you decide to loose weight, the first step is to get on a scale to see from what point you are starting. The best way anyone can get an overall impression of their overall ‘green-ness’ is by taking a look at ones carbon footprint. C’mon – all the kids are doing it!
There are a wide variety of sites that provide this sort of quiz. Depending on the data used, the assumptions of the quiz, and the detail of the information that one is expected to input, results will vary. However, I don’t recommend using these quizzes as an exact measure of your carbon output, but rather as an overall ‘check-up’ of your lifestyle. If you are looking to live a greener life, these quizzes can provide you with a good place to start.
When I looked at a wide variety of the quizzes online I tried to find ones that were broad in scope (not just a 3 question quiz about your driving habits) and allowed a higher degree of information input. (Do you drive an SUV or a hybrid?) Here is a selection of some of the quizzes I found.
These sites give you your footprint in tons of CO2 emitted:
- CarbonFootprint.com. This calculator allows you to put in your state information. This site is also really precise with air travel. Food and purchasing habits are not as precise. Your final footprint is compared to both the average footprint for the country as well as the target footprint for the world. The quiz is from a private company that has also created a quiz for businesses.
- The Nature Conservancy. This calculator takes into account some things like tire maintenance and composting. However, my footprint came out unusually high because of the lack of specificity in the ‘home energy’ area.
These sites give you your footprint in reference to how many hectares (or Earths) you are using.
- FootprintNetwork.org. I really like this quiz. There is a fast option that gives you an overview of your footprint as well as an option that goes into more detail if you have time. It covers all the major areas quite well. The final breakdown shows how many earths needed to supply your lifestyle, the tons of CO2 emitted, as well as a breakdown of what type of activity creates the most CO2.
- EarthLab.com. This site allows you to put in your zip code and is selectively specific. The make and model of your car can be imputed to use information from the manufacturer. For energy usage, you can enter the amount that you spend each month on a variety of fuel sources. Answers are provided in tons of CO2 as well as an Earth Conservation Plan score which you can track over time.
- Redefining Progress. I really like this quiz as well. The results are only given in hectares, which are broken down by biome type. There are also tips as you take the quiz to help you lower your energy consumption. Some bigger assumptions are made by the quiz, however, so the results came back a little skewed compared to the other quizzes I took.
- EatLowCarbon.org. If you are interested in the specific impact your diet has on your carbon footprint, this is the site for you. Each type of food is given a point value that relates to carbon output.
- TheGreenOffice.com. This site as well as CarbonFootprint.com allow you to take a quiz for your office.
See how your country stacks up. I love this website that compares the emissions of the countries of the world in a very visual way. It also shows birth and death rates for different countries. I am always amazed at how countries of similar lifestyle have such fewer emissions.
Begin to take actions to reduce your footprint. A good place to start is with the five R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle, rot, and rebuy. Other sites provide you with a plethora of other suggestions. For example, StopGlobalWarming.org suggests many changes and then shows how those changes affect your carbon output while Greener-Good.com provides daily challenges.
How have you lowered your footprint? Do you have a favorite site I missed? I’d love to hear about it!
Picture Credit: http://mrhartansscienceclass.wordpress.com/
This Norman Rockwell photograph is supposed to represent the ideal Turkey-Day. Although, I also enjoy Alton Brown’s interpretation of what this picture has done to our society. Despite the fact that turkey probably wasn’t even eaten on the original Thanksgiving, this is the image permanently etched in my head as I barrel through isles at the grocery store in search of the freshest ingredients to make a huge meal that no one in their right mind has any hope of finishing.
Waste reduction comes to my mind more so at the holidays because of all the extra trash we generate at this time of the year. Each week between Thanksgiving and New Years, Americans create 1million extra tons of trash. Since trash that goes to a landfill never goes away, we are not only spending a lot of money throwing away all of that trash, but are loosing the valuable energy and natural resources used to create that trash. From now until New Years I plan on sharing with you the little ways I plan to reduce trash through the holiday season.
This year I am hosting Thanksgiving. Last year we did this as well and we generated a lot of trash! By planning ahead I hope to drastically reduce the amount of trash we make without having people notice. Just because I want a waste-less holiday doesn’t mean everyone in my family will embrace the tofurky and reducing fuel usage by eating together via webcam. I think the best way to go about this problem is to think about what made up the lion’s share of our garbage last year.
- Food waste from preparing dinner. This was a big one. Potato peelings, fruit rinds, egg shells. You name it, I made it. This past year I have started composting. My compost bin is pretty much filled for the winter, but I am going to make sure that food waste from preparing dinner as well as compostable food scraps left on people’s plates will make it in to the bin before I officially close it up for the winter.
- Food packaging. This is another large culprit. This year I am double checking to verify that I am purchasing items with the least possible packaging. For example, for items I know I will use a lot of (staples, if you will) I have bought in bulk. For other items that I wont ever use again, I have bought the smallest size possible. My husband and I don’t drink soda very often, but we got a 2-liter for family members who drink the stuff almost exclusively rather than a lot of individual cans or 20 oz. containers. We also buy juice for the kiddos (not the re-hydrated or concentrate varieties) because although concentrate would make less trash, looking at the entire energy life cycle, it takes less energy to transport juice in larger containers than to dehydrate the stuff (containers that I make sure are recyclable btw). Also, I bought bacon that just came in the plastic rather than bacon that was in the plastic and then in a box. Downright goofy. Eggs I purchase in a paper egg carton as opposed to Styrofoam so that i can recycle it.
- Left overs on the plate. Last year we had huge plates that everyone filled to the breaking point, plus plates for salad and bowls for jello. Not only did this make our table very crowded, but it was difficult to realize just how much food you were even taking! This year I am doing away with all the extra plates and bowls. People can go back for seconds, which is better anyway because the food will be a lot more likely to stay hot if it is in the original container I cooked it it rather than sitting on its own ‘lil plate. Thats right – subtle psychological ploys to get my guests to take only what they will eat and not feel the need to beach themselves once full.
- Left overs in general. Last year was my husband and my first attempt at hosting a holiday. We had no idea about how much food to make and were a little over zealous in our attempts. This year I knew what to scale back on. Just as important, I have recipes handy to make tasty leftovers. I can personally vouch for this recipe to use up extra turkey and stuffing. I also plan to make turkey soup with the bones, and Shepard’s pie. One of my favorite tricks for making soup is to freeze individual sized portions in small, microwavable safe glass bowls. Then, once the soup is frozen I pop the soup-cicle out into a plastic bag so that I don’t have my dishes lost in the freezer forever. When someone needs an individual portion of soup you can just pop the soup-cicle back into the microwave safe dish and warm it up!
While Thanksgiving tends to revolve around family, football, and a really fun parade – food waste and food packaging are things that can easily be lessened by thinking creativly and planning ahead.
Yesterday, an article on MSNBC talks about the ‘other’ greenhouse gasses. Although methane is not as popular as carbon, it is much more potent. While carbon is off getting movements named after it (after all, haven’t you checked your carbon footprint lately?), methane has quitely become a larger problem. Landfills are the number one human-related producer of methane in the US. This is created by organic things slowly starting to decay in landfills. What to do? Some landfills now capture methane to use as power. In America, a general estimate is that 25% of that gas is captured. While this is clearly a better use than just pushing the gas into the atmosphere, it would be best not to create the gas at all. Composting organics is an easy way to reduce the amount of organics sent to the landfill, thereby reducing the amount of methane created. Not to mention, you save your municipality disposal costs and get a rich soil additive for yourself. Information on composting can be found in previous posts or our website.