Idea – Certified Biodegradable

I’m not just procrastinating or anything…
So almost everything that exists today will one day be garbage. Some of these things are recyclable. Most are not. Pizza boxes, for example are made out of wood pulp (perhaps recycled). Ordinarily, you would expect this to be recyclabale, but it is not, since the food oils are not compatible with recycling. But the pizza box is still biodegradable.
We like to be happy about biodegradable products. They can go into a landfill and not sit there for the next 10K years in their current form. Instead they go to a landfill, biodegrade and get contaminated with stuff that’s dangerous for 10K years and are not reclaimable as fertilizer, dirt or topsoil. This is better (slightly), but it’s not good. Pizza boxes contain nutrients that are useful and could be reclaimed as good compost. Throwing that away is wasteful.
Instead, we could set up a large municipal composter. This could be a large drum that rotates and is titled at a five degree angle. The insides of it contain sharp protrusions, to break things apart. Warm water (think recleaimed water here) is misted onto this thing. Trash goes in. One week later, dirt comes out. There’s a plan for how these things should work in one of my organic farming books.
The problem is, of course, not all trash is biodegradable. Composting all trash before landfilling it might reduce the volume of stuff going into the landfill, but it’s a waste of what could have been good compost. Instead, users could sort out biodegradable trash much the same way they now sort out recyclables. However, it’s hard to tell what is biodegradable. My shampoo bottle says “biodegradable” and “recyclable” on it. It’s clear they intend to say the the plastic is recycable. But does the biodegradable marking refer to the shampoo within the bottle or the bottle itself? Also, if the bottle is recyclable, this is an unusual situation, because normally plastic is not. Clearly consumer education will not be enough for users to sort biodegradable items from non biodegradable items.
Many people are proposing that manufacturers pay for disposing their products. Thus the disposal costs would be factored into the cost of the product and the packaging instead of being a hidden cost at the end and a burden to all tax payers rather than the individuals who purchased the product and all the packaging. This is a good idea, but biodegradable material would still be lost to the sanitary landfill for generations. The solution then is for certain products and especially certain pieces of packaging to be certified as biodegradable. Companies who met certification would have a reduced disposal fee for those items. In exchange, the product or packaging in question would be free of non biodegradable ingredients. If your plastic bottle biodegrades, but your ink is toxic, the compost resulting from it would be unsuitable and hence your whole product would fail certification.
There is no reason for a shampoo bottle to live decades longer than the shampoo it contained. This proposal is a step on the path to sustainability. Under the current capitalistic system, it may work better than an outirght ban on stupid packaging. It gives corporations incentives to fix their problems and to develop new methods for creating intelligent biodegradable packaging. It also gives consumers incentive to pick biodegradable products, since the discounted disposal fee will lead to cheaper prices.
Corporations may try to duck out of this by claiming that plastic is recyclable. Therefore, the disposal fee for non-biodegradable objects should consider what percentage of plastic actually gets recycled and what percentage of actually recycled plastic is re-used as packaging. In other words, if only 20% of plastic bottles are saved from the landfill through recycling, corporations would still have to pay 80% of the disposal fee. This fee would further be increased because plastic bottles do not become bottles again, so virgin material is required for every bottle produced. Manufacturers using glass bottles would pay a much lower fee, since most glass is recycled and it can be turned into glass bottles over and over again indefinitely. Manufacturers using recylable, biodegradable plastic would pay the same fee percentage as normal plastic producers, but they would pay that percentage of the lower biodegradable fee, rather than the sanitary landfill fee.
The compost resulting from tis scheme (once tested to make sure toxins didn’t sneak in) could be used in parks, schools and farms. The use of this compost would add nutrients to the soil and reduce the need for chemical fertalizers, thus leading to healthier plants, healthier food and ultimately healthier people. And less stuff in the landfills. What more could you want?

The Problems of Urban Composting

Permit me, dear reader, (if I have any), to think aloud for a moment about composting in the city. There are some problems specific to urban composters that suburban dwellers and country folk don’t have. One of these is a space limitation. Also, urban people are less likely to have gardenning tools such as pictforks or shovels. Your city resident may only have a containrer garden (if that) and no actual plot of dirt to call her own. Also, urban dwellers are more likely to have a ready supply of “wet” matter (also known as “green”) than “dry” matter (also known as “brown”). In short, the urban composter may be an apartment dweller with a small deck, no dirt lot or shovel who only has food wastes to compost.
What the is the ultimate compost bin for such a person? First of all, any compost bin on earth must be free of toxic stuff that will leach into the dirt that’s being made. This seems to rule out bins made of pressure treated lumber and some plastics, like PVC. Any bin that contains food wastes, even just carrot tops, must be rodent-proof. An ideal apartment bin would additionally be space efficient and not require a shovel of any kind. The ideal solution seems to then be worm composting. You can feed your worms all sorts of food wastes including cooked foods, afaik, and I’ve heard of some self-straining models, where removing the compost from the worms involves no more than pulling two pieces apart. Instant dirt. Takes up as little space as you want ti to. the worms are even edible. There are a few (as in one or two) cookbooks for how to eat your worms, should you get to be very hungry or decide you have an excess population. What criteria you would use for that, I don’t know.
However, worms die. Lazy people continually have to go get new worms because they dry out or go hungry for a while. I guess you could eat half of your worms before going on vacation, but that seems like an intense dedication to composting would be required. Also, all of the worm bins I’ve seen have been made of PVC. So then, what would be an ideal solution for a lazy apartment dwelling composter who doesn’t want to eat worms before travelling?
Since both space and brown matter are at a permium, the apartment bin should contain some form of brown material storge. Perhaps a hopper could be positioned over the main part of the bin so that brown matter, such as peat could be stored in there and then released into the bin via a lever or something. Also, an ideal bin would have a turning over mechanism built in. I have a PVC bin that’s round and on rollers, so that it can be turned over just by rolling it around. It’s efficient for space usage and requires no tools, although the plastic is a problem. Using a shovel to turn compost seems to have the side effect of breaking up big pieces of things. Periodically, a grapefruit will sit too long uneaten and be sent whole to the composter. Right now, this has a tendency to attract fruit flies, since the grapefruit does not get broken into little pieces. This design also is a bit hopper unfriendly, since the bin openeing and the hopper would need to be lined up before peat could be added.
Compost bins also need to sit a while before dirt can be removed. It’s necessary to have two or three bins, so one can be aging while material is being added to another. So the ideal bin would spin, would have some sort of brown matter storage, would break up big pieces of things, would, perhaps, store aging compost in addition to “active” compost (which is being added to daily) and would take up very little space. Additionally, it would be created out of non-harmful materials that ideally are somehow recycled, recyclable or both.
Ok, so this had me thinking. What if the brown matter was somehow built into the bin. I began picturing a bin made somewhat out of metal, but also out of the kind of compressed peat used for some pots. Then a hopper is no longer needed. So what you have is a big metal box, in which there is a round holder of aging compost. There is an identical round holder above this to hold active compost. It’s basically a wire frame with strong pegs sticking out the ends, at the center point, so it can rotate. The frame is light, since it’s designed to hold a heavy peat composting container. This container keeps out rodents and provides brown matter. The frame has some long spikes that stick inwards. These are designed to piece the peat. They have a dual function of holding the peat in place and breaking up large objects like whole grade fruit. The frame can split open to completely empty it and to load in a new peat frame. It also has a door on it, which must line up to a door punched in the peat, so that the uer can add new vegetables. Both the top bin and the bottom bin should be spun periodically. The bottom bin is in a box (with no top), to catch the dirt that falls out as the peat completely degrades along with the compost. The whole thing, including the bottom box, the two round frames and the mount above the box (which holds up the top round frame) is made of recycled steel. Except, of course, for the peat pieces.
Maybe it’s too big. It’s probably too expensive. buying new material every go-round may put-off some users. I’d write more about this endlessly facinating topic, but I must go do something about the dern fruitflies getting into the house again.