Working toward Zero Waste

Equinox Zero waste staion
Blocking that garbage can like a hockey goalie blocking the net!
From Wikipedia,
 The internationally recognized definition of ZERO WASTE adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is:

“Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.”


The goal for the Zero Waste stations for Green Events is to recycle everything that is recyclable and compost everything that is compostable, and then send as little waste as possible to the landfill. We measure this by weight, and the six events I’ve worked we have had a 95% or better diversion rate. This means that only 5% of the waste generated at the event, by weight, goes to the landfill. The rest goes to be recycled or composted.

Vendors in this town are pretty good about buying the most eco-friendly products (utensils, cups) they can. Before the event I go around to the vendors and figure what can be recycled and composted. So besides figuring what waste goes where for the waste stations, I sometimes do this at their counters..compost me

Fortunately, most paper products can be composted, including waxy cups and paper plates with food. Paper is a natural carbon source so it actually helps balance out the nitrogen source from food, like adding dead leaves.

Although the fork in the photo is made of plastic, many vendors are getting utensils made from corn, which can be composted. You can tell if a utensil is made from corn if it bends and doesn’t brake, and typically it won’t be white, but beige. Plastic utensils break when you bend them.


20150920_101946My favorite part of working these events, besides satisfying my neurosis of conservation, is the way people react to my neurotic behavior. I really do block the garbage can with cardboard and eyeball everything being thrown out. I’ll make people wait in line so that I can make sure everything goes in the correct bin. And most people appreciate it. I get many people telling me “Thank you for doing this”, or they will pull their kids aside to watch me be OCD over trash.

So the international definition tells us that the concept ‘Zero Waste’ is not literal, but a goal, to guide us toward Zero Waste.

For bringing the Zero Waste concept home, besides recycling, I think a home compost system is key. Even if you don’t garden, you you can still use your finished compost to fertilize your lawn, trees, shrubs and flowers, while you avoid throwing food into the landfill. See.. A Home Compost System is the Backbone to a good Garden!



A Home Compost System is the Backbone to a good Garden!

composter and leaf compactor openIt also helps reduce the greenhouses gases your food waste emits rotting in a landfill.

When we throw our food waste into the trash, sending it to the landfill, it decomposes anaerobically, or rots, without oxygen. This puts off ten times more methane and more carbon dioxide, harmful greenhouse gases, than food waste decomposing aerobically, with oxygen, in a good, home compost system.

Leaves are an integral part of a good traditional system.

By using a combination of:

  • yard waste, especially dead leaves for a carbon source
  • food waste, like fruit, vegetables, and coffee grounds
  • garden waste, with nitrogen rich biomass and clingy dirt full of working microbes

..we can create the perfect, local, organic fertilizer for replenishing our garden from all nutrients taken last season.

Traditional composting is basically just combining carbon, ‘brown’ material like dead leaves, and nitrogen, ‘green’ material such as food waste and garden waste, with oxygen, and a little water.

So, if you collect most of your leaves and store them next to your compost, it’s easy to layer, or ‘lasagna’, your food waste with dead leaves.leaf compactor

Here is the leaf compactor I made with some free bricks, a couple pieces of plywood and cinder blocks. I was able to compress almost a whole yard of leaves into that small space, a little at a time. The plywood in the back is important for protecting the house.

For my composter, I found a shop drawer on the side of the road with a ‘free’ sign on it. I put a lid on it with plywood and hinges then extended the divider. For one person this wcomposter openorks well. It can be closed, which keeps animals out and keeps a little more heat in.

  1. I add food waste and leaves on the right side, to start the compost process.
  2. Then I use the left side to finish, continue to turn and add oxygen, and maybe water.
  3. I just use a shovel to turn it weekly, both sides separately, adding oxygen and combining the materials.
  4. Once a month or so, or when I need finished compost or more space, I take the bottom layer of the finished side out. I shovel the top layer into an empty bucket, then take the finished material from the bottom. I usually put it directly on the garden, wherever there’s space, throughout the year.
  5. Then I do the same to the right side, the ‘add food’ side. I put the top, newer layer into a bucket,  and move the bottom layer to the finishing side. Then I dump the top layer from the bucket into the bottom now, add some leaves and it’s ready for kitchen waste.

I drilled holes in the bottom so that worms can get in and out and then I put it in a sunny spot for maximum warmth, both helping the compost process.

You can easily find instructions online for building compost bins, especially made with used pallets. Pallets work well because the gaps allow oxygen and you’re re-using materials.

There are so many ways to set up your compost system, from a store bought unit to multiple bay systems, just do what works for you.

Another benefit of having some type of compost system is that it reminds us of how much food we waste. Which helps me waste less.

I don’t put any meat in my compost. But I don’t eat too much meat and try not to waste any. 

Other Tips

  • Banana peels are bad about attracting fruit flies. Freeze your banana peels before composting them and they won’t attract fruit flies.
  • Store bought composters work best when adding dead leaves with food waste also.compost heating
  • Covering my composter with a blanket and black tarp helps to add and trap heat which also speeds up the compost process. This especially helps in the winter.