A lot of us were pretty excited last year when the City of Calgary delivered the green bins for compost collection. This stuff now bypasses the landfill, and furthermore, makes something useful of our leaves, household scraps, garden debris, and pet waste (imagine that!). Now that we are well into our first year of this program, I had questions, as I imagine many people have, and went looking for answers.
The City’s website Calgary.ca is well laid out and has most everything to answer our queries. Programs and Services – Environment is where the compost information lives. So here is what happens to our bags of kitchen eggshells and avocado skins, dog poo, kitty litter and tree branches: the trucks take all this material to one of 3 huge buildings in SE Calgary at the Shepard Waste Management Facility and deposit it inside for treatment. There it is shredded into small pieces, aerated, moistened and heated to 55 degrees Celsius for long enough to kill pathogens that are present in kitchen and pet waste, such as e-coli and salmonella. Then it is screened to even smaller size, moved to the curing building and stirred, aerated and cooled down on its way to becoming compost, safe for use in parks, farms, nurseries and gardens. The process takes approximately 60 days from start to finish, much less time than our back yard composters take with only the sun as a source of heat. At the same time, in nearby but separate vessels, waste (known as biosolids) from our water treatment facilities is being mixed with wood chips and made into a similar but different compost which will ultimately be spread on agricultural land. That is the process, in a nutshell. Samples of this Category A compost are routinely sent to a Compost Quality Alliance lab for analysis to ensure that it passes the criteria set by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. Ergo, it shall be safe for us to put on our gardens.
Beginning in May, there will be free compost available to the public, who has been paying to have this material created. According to the City manager I spoke to, on Saturdays we can go to the site (they will let us know where, in due course) with our shovels and containers and take home this lovely stuff to amend our soil and grow better gardens. Yay! A total of 5% of the volume will be set aside for this purpose. Later in 2018, City Council is looking into reducing the weekly pick-up of the green bin to every second week in the winter months when there is no garden material. Hopefully, they will reduce our monthly charge at the same time. That would be fair, don’t you think? By the way, the department is happy to host tours of 10 or more citizens at appropriate times. Sounds like an interesting field trip to me.