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Welcome to the NEKWMD Monthly Blog!
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April 2018 - After a long winter, it's time to think about COMPOST!
With the warm months ahead, many of us are starting to think about our outdoor projects. This time of the year provides the perfect opportunity to start a new compost pile or, if you already have one, wake it up after the long, cold winter.
Let's face it, there is a lot of information out there about composting, and it can be easy to suffer from "Analysis Paralysis". How do you know when you have enough information and can simply get started and succeed? If you check out our our Compost page, there is a good amount of information to get you started. Another good source of information is this DIY Gardening blog.
But, instead of reading more information, this video offers a quick yet thorough explanation of how to build a compost pile and the important things to keep in mind throughout the process.
This video highlights how easy it can be to build and miantain a pile! Let's review the important points:
1. It doesn't matter what type of bin/container you use! Store-bought bins work well, but pallets, wire cage, or a pile also does the job. The main objectives for your pile design should be: large pile size (size will decrease overtime, aim to start pile at 1 cubic yard), location (well-drained soil, close enough to your home to easily transport water, if needed), air flow (pile should not be in a fully-enclosed container, and should have holes or be open on bottom), and keeping animals out of your pile. Tumblers, while popular, can be tricky in norhtern climates. They are not very large, so the compost does not gain heat as it would in a pile on the ground. Material in the tumbler will break down, but composters often feel the need to take the material from the tumbler and place it into a compost pile to finish the composting process.
2. Compost ingredients include a lot more than just food scraps. When we think about our "compost recipe", we think about balancing the "green" material with "brown" material. But why? Composting microogranisms, including bacteria and fungi, need a balance of carbon materials ("browns") and nitrogen materials ("greens"). Dry saw dust, leaves, hay, or straw provide energy to our bacteria and fungi; the food scraps, green yard waste, and manures provide the nitrogen to build protiens. "Brown" materials can be difficult to find depending on the season and your location, so it's important to stock up on these materials when you can, and store in a dry location.
3. Maintenance will vary depending on what's in your pile. People who want to turn their pile only 1-2x/month should avoid putting meat and dairy in the compost, as these materials require the pile be turned regularly. Turning the pile ensures that bacteria in the center have a constant food supply, allowing them to constantly eat, which keep the compost pile warm. Therefore, meat and dairy requires turning pile at least once a week to keep bacteria well-fed and producing heat.
Remember, compost should smell like earth if correctly made. After 6 months, most food scraps should be decompsed. In northern climates, compost piles started in the spring will be finished in the fall, allowing for the compost to mature throughout the winter, and be ready for application on your property the following spring.
Restarting a compost pile
Some people chose not to remove compost from their pile in the fall, with the plan to continue building the same pile the following spring. Some people add material to their compost all winter, even though it remains frozen until spring. In any case, if you have a frozen compost pile after a long winter, there are a few tricks to get your compost pile activated with as little issues as possible.
Chances are, at the beginning of the spring, your backyard compost pile is going to be inactive. If you dig into it and feel no heat coming from the center of the pile, you need to reactivate the composting bacteria and fungi. To activate your compost, gather some food scraps from your kitchen, dig a hole into center of compost and place in food scraps. Place in only a few gallons, layer with brown materials until all food scraps are added, and cap with finished compost when the pile becomes 3ft tall. Doing this will ensure your bacteria has the right food supply to begin heating up the pile quickly.
If your compost pile is not active (not producing heat) and it also smells bad, like rotting eggs, your compost pile has too much moisture. This is a common issue for compost piles in the spring, as melting snow can saturate the pile with water, halting any fresh air from entering the pile when the temperatures start to warm. Take a pitchfork and work through the material, breaking up any clumps to promote air flow. As you turn with a pitchfork, add dry brown materials, like sawdust, wood shavings, or shredded leaves. Brown material will absord extra moisture, but its helpful to cover the compost with a tarp until it is able to reactivate and gain heat.
Basically, when restarting a compost pile, it's important to think about balance. Is it too wet or too dry? Does it have large clumps of material that halt air flow? Is there enough carbon material to provide energy to the bacteria and fungi while they break down the food scraps?
Composting, while not an exact science, is still an experiment. Take time and be patient with yourself and your compost as you figure out what works best for you! And if you find that backyard composting is not for you, check our list of Transfer Stations with free food scrap disposal on our Compost page.
March 2018 - The Scoop on Plastics
Plastic recycling here in the NEKWMD is a little different than in other parts of VT. In areas that solely have "single-stream" recycling (all recycling goes into same bin, no sorting), most "hard" plastics numbered 1-7 can be placed into the bin. Naturally, this raises a lot of questions: Why do we not accept all hard plastics in the NEKWMD? What is the difference with all of the numbers? Why can we no longer recycle black-colored plastics? All of these questions, first and foremost, highlight the complexity of plastic and the recycling industry. This blog will (hopefully) clear up some of the confusion of plastic recycling in the NEKWMD.
First, let's talk about what happens when we recycle plastic in the NEKWMD.
After you recycle plastics at your local recycling center, we take it back to our warehouse in Lyndonville and bale the material into large cubes, weighing over 1000lbs each. When we have enough for a shipment, the material is hauled to PA where it is sorted by type. The sorting process uses optical sensors (fancy lasers, really) to detect different types of plastic for efficient processing. After sorting, it is flaked, washed, and re-pelletized into the form that can be made into a new product.
This is where the issue of black plastics come in...
Black plastics are becoming an increasing issue with recycling facilities that use these optical sorters, which is currently the preferred sorting technology. Simply stated, since the color black does not reflect light, these items are scanned over and missed by the optical lasers. Previously, much of this black plastic (which can be any number) was sent oversees to China, where it was processed in small-scale, coal-fired recycling facilities. Now, the Chinese government is looking to stop these coal-fired facilities, as they often are unregulated and are causing air pollution issues for Chinese citizens. China's refusal to take our hard-to-recycle plastic is a reminder that the recycling industry is a global market, and that plastic is often harmful to process if the necessary technology to remove toxic pollutants is not in place.
Now the material is ready to be processed and turned into a variety of products, like outdoor furniture and plastic lumber. What we accept is directly effected by what recycled plastic manufactoers need to make their products. Check out the video below about the process of what happens to your milkjugs.
Next, let's discuss the numbers...
Ever wonder what the number stamped within the recycling symbol really means? Does it tell what type of plastic, or whether or not it is recyclable? The answer could be both, or neither, but it should be mentioned that whether a plastic is recyclable is dependant on the available markets for plastic in your area. So, even if it has the symbol, it may not be collected in your local recycling program. A good examle of this is Expanded Polystyrene (Styrofoam). While this material is labeled as #6, there are very few recycling facilites for the material. It is mostly air and therefore, once melted, produces very little plastic in comparison to the volume of Styrofoam processed.
Here is some quick info about the different numbers and what they mean:
These plastics are usually bottles, oven & microwave-ready trays, food jars, etc. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET, polyester) is a common plastic as it is very light yet sturdy. This is one of the easiest plastics to recycle because PET products can be "downcycled" (loosing some quality) made into polyester fibers and used in clothing production. In Vermont, recycling #1 plastic containers is mandatory by law. This product is accepted through all VT recycling programs.
The high-density polyethylene (HDPE) is the most widely used plastic type in the world. This versatile plastic has the simplest chemical structure of any plastic polymer type, making it extremely popular for many uses, including plastic film and packaging. Unlike #1 plastics, this plastic is strong, durable, but is permeable to gases, which has allowed it to be used in abundance. When #2 plastics are recycled, they can be turned into non-food packaging, or other items like fencing and outdoor furniture. All #2 plastic containers are mandatory recycling, and is accepted through all VT recycling programs.
Polyvinyl (PVC) is the second most widely used plastic in the world but production has been decreasing over the past decase due to health and environmental factors associated with its production, use, and disposal. However, it is a cost-effective material that is versitile and tough. PVC is often used in toys, non-food packaging, bottles for body products such as shampoo and mouthwash. Recycled PVC has very minimal uses, often being downcycled into outdoor furniture.
Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is much like HDPE in that it is a widely used plastic, most common in grocery, frozen food, garbage bags. When recycled, this material is often made into outdor products like compost bins, outdoor furniture, plastic lumber.
Polypropylene (PP) is a stiffer and more heat resistant plastic than polyethylenes (#1,2,4) and can be used in a variety of products ranging from food containers to car parts. This category is where we begin to see recycling become difficult for some #5 objects. Food containers are the easiest to recycle back into food-grade plastics. However, #5 objects such as car parts of flower pots are often mixed with other plastic resins (ie, not only #5 PP). This is why, in the NEKWMD, we can recycle #5 food containers only.
Polystyrene (PS) is commonly known as Styrofoam, but also includes items such as disposible cups and bowls, take-out food containers, packaging, compact disks and DVDs, among others. This various group of plastics requires benzene, a known carcinogen, to be produced, rendering it difficult to recycle and process. When it is recycled, it is made into thermal insulation or packaging. In the NEKWMD, our plastics recycler does not accept this material.
This category is where the numbering system looses its meaning, as the #7 category is simply labeled as "Other". It is a general "catch-all" category, containing random plastic types that aren't as prevelent as #1-6, or could be a product with more than one plastic type. Sometimes, you will see the letters "PC" under the #7 label, which stands for Polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is not the only #7, and is decreasing in use because of problems associated with BPA exposure. Because of its wide variety and the known toxicity of Polycarbonate plastic, this category is not accepted through the NEKWMD recycling program. In programs that do recycle #7, it is often destined to become plastic lumber.
We hope this info cleared up some of the confusion (or possibly added to it) about plastic recycling.
Much of this information was adapted from Life Without Plastic