City Composting Program

We participate in the City of Minneapolis pilot food composting program. Because we have our own compost bins outside and a worm bin inside, we don’t produce a lot of food waste for the city, but we really have appreciated the ability to compost bones, chicken carcasses, spoiled yogurt, meat skin and food packaging. And when our compost bins are full, which can happen if I’ve had a busy week weeding in the garden or processing veggies, we do wind up giving the city our excess food waste.

In the summer, however, we can run into a problem, which we noted yesterday as we prepared for garbage pickup. The city only picks up compost once a week. That is not often enough in the summer. It can result in smells and small flies. Solutions we and others have tried:

    Bringing it outside before pick-up day: When I’ve had too much compost, or it’s been too smelly, I’ve sometimes had to bring out a bag well before pick-up day. Unfortunately, the heat outside makes the smell so much worse. I actually worried my neighbors might complain.
    Cooling/freezing: I try to throw away spoiled food from the fridge only every other week, right before pickup, so it’s not smelling up the indoor compost bin. That often means leaving spoiled food in the fridge, taking up limited fridge space. A friend told me he puts his compost in the freezer between pick-ups. For us, freezer space is even more limited.
    Containing: We use a medium-sized garbage can with easy lifting lid for most of our compost, and a small metal compost tin for the worm food. The smaller tin does a better job of keeping insects out of the kitchen, but its too small for meaningful composting. We need an effective larger compost bin.

The city hasn’t asked for feedback from residents on the composting program. I wish they would. I wish they would brainstorm with us ways we can better handle compost before pick-up.


Kitchen and Bathroom Win for Waste Production

We continued to produce quite a bit of garbage this week – 2 pounds, 15 ounces worth. That doesn’t count the things that will be recycled next week. We’ll count them before we set them out.

The majority of waste came from two rooms: the kitchen and the bathroom.

    The heaviest amount of kitchen waste was compostable, and most of that could be composted on site. We are part of the City of Mpls composting pilot program so we sent 8 ounces of compostable packaging went to the city. We had no meat or dairy waste this week, or that would have gone to the city, too.
    The next batch of kitchen waste was plastic. It’s just impossible to get away from it! I bought canning jars and they come in boxes wrapped in plastic! I bought juice and I can choose a plastic twist or a plastic spout. This week I replaced a broken plastic ice cube tray and a broken plastic whisk because I found unbroken items at a garage sale. At least I didn’t have to buy new plastic wrapped in plastic!


    I bought an over-the-counter medication that is only sold in a very small plastic tube glued to a large piece of cardboard and covered in plastic. Ugh, hate it.
    And then there’s feminine hygiene products. I’ve written about this before on my other blog so I’m going to link to that post on alternatives to pads. Cloth and diva cups save A LOT of money and a lot of waste over time but they don’t work for every woman at all times. There are eco-friendly, compostable pads on the market, which I hadn’t noticed until now – and I hadn’t thought about how to compost such a product until now. (Challenges have a way of helping you think through things like this.) Grist blogger, Ask Umbria, says to use a worm bin. I realize I’ve got some investigating to do.

Worm bin learning

So the worm bin composting has been a positive experience so far. It makes me feel good to be producing less waste, which is noticeably the case. I am enjoying having to take the trash out less often than before, which will be extra great as the weather gets cooler. Although so far so good, I would be curious to hear what the other worm bin composters are experiencing. This is my first time worm bin composting and the gratification is somewhat delayed, as compost/casting won’t be ready to “harvest” for at least four months (on average – as I have been doing lots of reading of blogs to understand how to best maintain a worm bin).

I guess my two biggest question still remain:

1. FIRST QUESTION: How much can my bin handle? Having a CSA this summer has produced a little more organic waste than normal and I have been careful to not overload the bin with an excessive amount of wet organic material. This seems to be good so far. Before starting the bin I came to terms with the fact that there WOULD be some fruit flies, particularly in the summer. When I bought my worms, the very helpful woman at Amelia’s flower shop in Minneapolis told me that a healthy worm bin is not an overly clean worm bin. So, thus far, a few fruit flies, but just a few here and there. Despite all of the blog reading I have been doing, it is hard to understand the capacity of a bin without just trying it out – the whole point of the threeACTIONS! This is great, but an insight is that having more helpful information around this would maybe inspire more timid worm bin composters to give things a try and, maybe more importantly, inform them of the size bin they need.

Since I live in an apartment, space is tight, and so a bin much bigger than the 14″ wide by 17″ deep bin would have been tough. Of course this begs the question of sharing compost with my fellow condo/apartment neighbors. Getting more developers and apartment associations in on this conversation would be an important way around this conundrum. Composting space could be shared space with dedicated maintenance persons.


2. SECOND QUESTION: How often should I be adding food? I started by adding food every 3-4 days, after collecting it in a small, closed container on the kitchen counter. In the last week I have gotten more in the habit of putting the scraps right in the bin. Although, I recently read that disturbing the bin less is better for the worms, which makes perfect sense. So, I am going to go back to my original method. If anyone else has thoughts or advice on this, I would be appreciative to hear about it.


Lastly, it has been great helping teach my roommate (currently my sister) about worm bin composting. We get twice the benefit without both of us having to dedicate to doing all of the research and leg work. I gave her a few of the best websites I found and asked her to read them and made a list of the “DO NOT PUT IN BIN” items and put it on the refrigerator. So far so good.

Water, Electricity, Transport

Hi.  This is Jeff again.  My 3Acts are all tracking.  Water, Electricity, and Transport.  Special situation:  disability due to Parkinson’s Disease.   In our group Transitions Longfellow, someone said at a meeting that they paid all that money to put in solar and get off the grid as an expression of the morality of their choice.   That kind of got to me.  Honestly, due to my past history, my first motivation is to save money.  I am trying more to put my beliefs into practice and be more responsible.  So I contributed to the VOTE NO! on the marriage limitation ballot question and am trying to get a lawn sign.  Small steps.

So I’m not just trying to reduce use; I’m trying to save money.  I started tracking water use and looked at my bill from the city.  In Minneapolis we pay $3.20 per 100 cu. ft. for water used each month.  (100 cu. ft. of water is about 748 gallons.)  I found on the internet that Americans use on average about 64 gallons of water per day, or about 1900 gallons per month.  My use?   I can’t figure it closely, but it is in the range of 28 to 35 gallons per day or 840 to 1050 gallons per month.  So I use about half the water used by the average person in the U.S.  Why can’t I get more precise?  My water use varies month to month.  Now I can shower at the YWCA several times a week (I have to exercise to maintain core strength so I have less risk of falling) since it comes with the membership.  I may do more or less laundry and garden watering in a month.  Some months I use less than 748 gallons and pay the minimun $3.20.  Some months I use more water and pay another $3.20.   In order to reduce my use I would have to find a way to easily (physical limitations) reuse kitchen sink water and shower water, maybe even laundry water.  I do put dish cleaning water in a bucket in the bath and use that to flush urine.  And I reduce flushing by following the line “If it is yellow, let it mellow.  If it is brown, flush it down.”  (Yes, I am single.)  The result is it would be too hard for me to reduce more without a grant to replumb.  And the cost savings would be minimal, maybe $12 per year (city water is cheap).  There is another way to save water, though, on the outside of my house.  I could get a rain barrel.  I could have a rain garden in my yard.  I may try one or both of those things next year.

For tracking electricity I borrowed a Watts Up? meter from the East Lake Library and hunted for the elusive watts in my house.  The electric energy hogs in my house are the room air conditioner (the only A/C in the house) and the non energy star refrigerator.   The A/C (1990 model; got it free from my neighbor) runs 5-6 hours a day and adds about $25/month to my electric bill ($.72/day; I don’t use it every day).  In the winter the new high efficiency gas furnace replaces the A/C at about the same total cost, but runs on and off all day.  The spring and fall my electric bills fall to about $22 per month when neither A/C or furnace are on.  At the height of either summer or winter my bill gets up to $47/month.  The refrigerator, of course, is plugged in all the time.  It uses about $.285/day, or $8.55 per month.   The main reason why I don’t replace the A/C and/or the frig:  I may have to move to assisted living in a few years which means I would not get the pay back.  Pay back of replacement cost via energy savings for each appliance would be ~10 years.  I know what you are thinking!  What would the moral choice be?   Or, go solar!  Sorry, but I got one of those free assessments through LLC and solar is not viable at my house.

Lastly, I am tracking my transport.  My 1994 Oldsmobile Cutlas Ciera still gets 15 – 20 mpg in summer (up to 27 mpg hiway) and my guess is that it only costs about $300/month to operate (or about $1/mile).  Compare that to the HourCar at ~$600/mth.  Yes, it can be cheap to operate a reliable old car that is paid for.  It is hard for passengers to get in the doors, though, and it ain’t much to look at.  I want to see how many miles I am actually driving each month.  The exercise at the Y adds about 42 miles a month (12 x 3.5 miles round trip).  I am considering going carless when my license renews Nov. 1, 2014.  Partly because the car is dying.  I have two years to come up with alternatives.  Getting to doctor appointments and some of my activities would get very inconvenient and be more expensive without my driving and having a car.  Some trips I walk; bike and bus could be options for certain trips.  Sharing a car may be good; or a new mode of personal transit yet to be.  It would be nice to have more of a intentional community to be in to facilitate this.  That is the moral choice.  I’m willing to try it.  How about you?

Jeff Bell – South Mpls Cohort.

P.S.  A “raspberry” to math checkers.   How is it that some months I use less than 748 gallons of water but my guestimate is 840 – 1050 gallons per month?  It is dementia, obviously!  How wrong you would be!  I was an accountant.  To paraphrase General MacArthur, “Old accountants never die!  They just go out of balance.”

Rethinking Our Energy Goal

Truth be told, we’re having problems with the goal of living within our solar energy budget. We haven’t been able to complete the initial worksheet. It is unbelievably complicated to try to track usage like turning a light on and off every time I enter the pantry. I’m wondering if there isn’t a better, easier way to make a dent in our energy use.

I’m thinking of sabbath. Observant, orthodox Jews don’t do “work” on the sabbath, including answering phones, turning on light switches or using stoves. Perhaps we should allow the TV to rest on Saturday and the computer to rest on Sunday.

Eliminating organic food waste! Week 3

Day 17 of the project and I’m feeling like I’m getting into a new groove of managing food and food waste.  Got a bit of a late start on the project after being in Yosemite for the past week so I wanted to share the results of my baseline week and the beginnings of starting these new actions:
My three actions are:

(1)Commute by bike

(2)Eliminate food spoilage waste

(3)Compost all food scraps via worm bin

One of my big goals for adopting these actions is to eliminate all organic waste (mostly food since I live in an apt with no yard).  Having a worm bin to ‘dispose’ of most food waste is certainly an improvement over throwing these items in a landfill (where they will turn into a sludge, taking up space, not decomposing and wasting valuable nutrients that could be reused).  However, composting does not solve the problem of food going bad in my refrigerator and being wasted (even if it is composted).  For this reason, eliminating food spoilage waste AND having a compost bin for food scraps (from cooking) is definitely the two-part solution for eliminating organic waste in my lifestyle.  I believe that diverting organic food waste from my trash can will significantly reduce the amount of waste that my boyfriend, Kevin, and I make.  We buy most of our food in bulk at the co-op and, therefore, don’t have a lot of waste that is created every day except for food.

Compost all food scarps via worm bin

We are still working on getting the worm-composting bin up and running again.  I actually built and used one over the last 2 years but after moving 3 times in the course of a few months, the compost bin needs to be restarted with some new worms!  This weekend, I’ll be emptying the old contents of the worm bin (only about 8 inches deep after 1.5 years of composting) into my parents larger outdoor compost bin, and restarting from scratch.  I believe composting worm can be found at Interior Gardens in NE Minneapolis, anyone else doing this action who has found them somewhere else?

Eliminating food spoilage waste

This has been the most exciting action so far.  At the beginning of each week we use the spreadsheets for this action to inventory all food which needs to be used in the next week or it will go bad.  From the baseline week information, we discovered that most of what is wasted in our apt. is fruits and cheeses.  After cleaning out the fridge to get rid of anything which was already spoiled, we made a list of about 10 items.  Most of this food is produce from our CSA.  Since we get a box weekly, the goal is to use (or preserve) everything we get by the end of the week, so that we can start fresh with each week.  We went through all of the items listed and came up with a plan for using them over the next week.  We looked up recipes and wrote dates on our spreadsheet for when everything will be used.  This makes shopping and deciding what to eat simple and easy for the rest of the week.  In addition, keeping on top of everything that is in our fridge creates a cycle of cooking with what we already have, letting ingredients for meals ‘piggy-back’ off of each other to use everything.   Fingers crossed for no food spoilage waste!

making pizza sauce with leftovers

week 3 fridge

Commuting by bike

This action has been both difficult and easy for me.  I am an architectural intern working a contract position, so I go into our studio (located in NE) only once a week.  The rest of the week, my only commute is to my serving job which is only 1 mile from my apt in Uptown.  Biking to the restaurant definitely beats driving, I can get there faster (since I don’t have to park) and I can bring my bike into our restaurant office so I don’t have to keep it outside.  Biking to NE however, is a disaster.  Even going somewhat out of my way to go through downtown on 1st Ave, I am biking during rush hour.  Bike lanes are either full of cars (no room to bike even on the shoulder) or dangerous with people turning right.  Once through downtown, the roads in NE are terrible for biking, full of potholes and brick paving.   This commute is only 4.7 miles, but defiantly the worst bike commute I have ever done.



The Inevitability of Trade-Offs

Oil and Gas versus Water

Saving water is one of my husband’s goals in the Three Actions Project. We have already done a lot to “create the conditions for success” when it comes to saving water for typical household activities. We have a clothes washer that operates with less water and low-flow showerheads. We have a bucket in the shower and in the wash basin to collect water for flushing toilets (gray water) and we keep a large bucket in the kitchen to reuse excess washwater in the garden (I use biodegradable soap). These are things we already do every day.

But in the summer months, this is not where the majority of our water usage occurs. My garden and food processing are the water hogs.

We have water in MN, we don’t have oil. So I’m working on reducing the distance food travels to get to my table. This year the distance for at least some of our tomatoes, cabbage, onions, kale, chard, beets, lettuce, peppers, zucchini, raspberries, ground cherries, basil, oregano, thyme, garlic, leeks, cucumbers and beans is no more than 50 feet.

I try not to be water wasteful. I don’t water lawns, which can survive drought by going dormant. I have lots of native plants and bulbs on my boulevard and I rarely water them. But if mother nature doesn’t water the vegetables, I have to. I’m working on getting a rainwater system going, but it’s not there yet.

We eat something from the garden almost every day, but I’m also learning to process vegetables for winter. I’m most familiar with water-bath canning. I can tomatoes, sauce and pickles – things with high amounts of acid. It takes quite a lot of water to wash the vegetables and fill the canning pot. And it takes a fair amount of natural gas to heat all that water. If I’m going to be canning two days in a row, I save the water in the canning pot, but I have a very small kitchen. I can’t keep a huge pot just sitting around. If it’s not going to be used soon, we “water” the compost bin (compost breaks down faster when it’s got the right amount of moisture) or the veggies. But I do feel guilty when I pour all that water out.

In the past month, I’ve been canning with my neighborhood Transition group (Transition Longfellow). We’ve been teaching folks how to pickle and can and doing it together. This saves water because many people are using it one after another. It also saves gas because we are doing more in the same canner so we don’t have to keep heating extra water. It’s too bad there aren’t places set up in each neighborhood where people can go to do this kind of work together – saving money and gas and having fun while they do it!

I recently bought a pressure canner so I can process low-acid foods like beets and green beans and meat. At first I couldn’t understand why people said it was more efficient because a pressure canner takes far more time. Now that I’ve processed soup and broth, I see what they mean. The pressure canner uses only a couple of quarts of water – as opposed to many gallons used in the water canner – and once it reaches boiling, I can turn the gas on the stove down to the very lowest setting. Pressure keeps the heat high.

But it’s clear to me that I need to learn more about other methods of food preservation, too.