Recycle Food Scrap at Home & Save Bigby Terry Green on 01/05/13
Sometimes even a small change in the way we do things can pay back big time. Take, for example, changing the way you dispose of your food scrap. Simply getting off of the garbage pick-up grid eliminates expensive pick-up fees charged by haulers. This alone can save you $200+ per year in garbage pick-up fees you no longer have to pay. So, your thinking, who wants to do that and get stuck with a pile of rotting garbage with rats, pesky flies and other pests accumulating in your own backyard? Not so! This blog describes how you can disengage from the garbage pick-up grid in dealing with your food scrap and other wastes generated at home.
First, a note from personal experience. Even though my family lives in an urban area where garbage pick-ups are the norm, we have no difficulty managing our garbage off of the garbage pick-up grid. We don’t have rats running around our yard, and there are no pesky flies buzzing about. We’ve been completely off scheduled garbage pick-ups since mid-March, 2009. To this day my family continues to realize out-of-pocket savings ($200+ per year) by simply not having to pay waste haulers to pick-up our garbage. Our vegetable and flower gardens are also doing better than ever.
By decentralizing our garbage pick-ups we're helping to reduce carbon emissions lost into the atmosphere associated with routine pick-ups and long distance hauling of wastes to commercial central processing sites. We simply recycle locally all our food scrap waste in our backyard, and bulk other recyclable materials at drop off sites near our local grocery store, paying ourselves with the savings realized by eliminating scheduled garbage pickups.
Think about it. If enough people elected to do the same, this practice of decentralizing garbage hauling and the elimination of regular scheduled pickups could lead to a significant reduction in municipal taxes and costs incurred in supporting present-day municipal pick-ups and the ongoing struggle to find more land for processing our burgeoning wastes generated in large metropolitan areas of the country.
Changes in the financial impact of switching off the garbage pick-up grid in recycling food scrap locally in a large metropolitan area are not trivial. In the greater Portland metropolitan area where we live (population, 2.26 million people), even if only 1% of the households (assuming the current average household size based on census figures is about 2.6 individuals per household) dropped off scheduled pick-ups, the combined savings for those electing to do so would easily exceed $2 million dollars. This estimate in savings assumes all households pay only the minimum lowest garbage pick-up rate, and it does not take into account savings to haulers in capital operating costs, reduced fuel and hauling charges, nor reductions in pressure to find more land needed in processing the waste picked up and hauled to commercial composting sites.
Fig. 1. Actual household garbage pick-up costs in US dollars by year incurred before and after initiation of decentralized food scrap recycling by implementing Black Soldier fly and fermentation technologies in processing biodegradable wastes at home. Arrow indicates the time in mid-March, 2009, when the changeover was initiated. Average savings per year through elimination of scheduled municipal pick-up fees were in excess of $200 per year. Copyright (c) 2013, Terry Green, All rights reserved.
Fig. 1 shows the expenses in garbage pick-up fees we paid in US dollars over the last three years since switching over to recycling all of our food scrap in our own backyard. Recyclable plastics, paper, glass and metal recyclables get dropped off at the local recycling center near the grocery store where we need to travel anyway in shopping for food, so there is no significant extra hauling charge or cost in recycling these materials. Where we live the average monthly garbage pickup fees for a small garbage roll cart (35 gal) are now at ~$30 per month ($360 per year), and the pickup fee for the next size roll cart (60 gal) is ~$38 per month (~$454 per year). These garbage pick-up fees are typical of many metropolitan regions concerning schedule pick-up rates, so depending upon the rates and volume of waste bin you use, you can easily project what kind of savings you can realize where you live.
We stopped our household scheduled services in March of 2009, and noticed an immediate savings in getting off the garbage pick-up grid of $200+ per year which continues to this day. The small amount of non-recyclable waste (Styrofoam packaging, plastic coated paper, latex paints, etc.) is simply stored at home until there is a sufficient amount to make it worthwhile to haul off to a drop site. In our community we can schedule a one-time pick-up for this task, but it could just as easily be hauled off to the local drop off site for areas where single pick-ups are not allowed. Since food scrap and other biodegradable wastes are already sorted, non-recyclable wastes don’t decompose or stink under long term storage. We usually end up paying a one time drop off fee of about $28, the lowest price per trip charged by our local garbage drop off site processor.
Since we live in a temperate zone, for biodegradables, notably food scrap wastes, we store the food scrap leftovers during the cooler winter months in 5 gallon buckets capped with lids, layering the food scrap with a light dusting of bulk wheat bran between additions to help jump start microaerobic fermentation and decomposition of the waste (agricultural chaff materials are rich in microbial spores common in soils which can be used to jump start fermentative processes) . There are no objectionable odors. The buckets are kept tightly capped between additions, and stored under the sink inside our house. No methane gas is generated in storing waste this way since sufficient air is available through leakage around the cap of the buckets, blocking by its presence production of methane gas. For leftover food scrap, it doesn’t take more than about two 5 gallon buckets to get through the cold season of each year.
Around late spring, the partially decomposed food scrap stored in the buckets and newly generated food scrap wastes get transferred into a Black Soldier fly food scrap recycler set up in our backyard. Black Soldier fly larvae feed on the waste added to the recycler, rapidly assimilating the leftover food scrap wastes into valuable insect biomass good for birds, frogs and the environment. Carbon and other nutrients get converted into insect biomass, and therefore they are spared from emission and discharge into the environment. A big advantage of using Black Soldier flies in processing food scrap waste, and fermentation technologies, is that there is no need to physically aerate, water and turn over the waste as it decomposes. Decomposition occurs efficiently and passively as waste is added, reducing the amount of labor and fussing about to get things just right for decomposition that is required in composting operations.
Liquid fertilizer (the leachate fraction), formed as the Black Soldier larvae feed off of the discarded food scrap, gets used in our vegetable and flower gardens. In the fall we return to our garden soil leftover residues recovered from the recycler as nutrient compost. For those who prefer not to add fermented food scrap into the recycler, it can be buried directly in the soil where it will breakdown rapidly with a matter of a few weeks. This also returns carbon, nitrogen and other essential nutrients back to the soil while also improving the compositional structure of the soil.
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