Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County

Interest in Composting Climbs during COVID

April 19, 2021 Bridget Doherty Season 1 Episode 8
Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County
Interest in Composting Climbs during COVID
Show Notes Transcript

Looking for ways to celebrate Earth Day? What better way to honor our planet than nourishing its soil with your kitchen scraps! Just as gardening and cooking have gained new enthusiasts during this pandemic, so has composting. 

We discuss tips and tricks with our local composting connoisseurs – Michelle Balz and Gage Bradford with Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District. Michelle and Gage give us  the latest on how you can buy discounted compost bins and take free virtual composting seminars. Plus, they convinced a ‘reluctant composter’ to stop procrastinating and start reducing household waste.

Jeff Aluotto:

Welcome to heart and hustle in Hamilton County, a podcast about the people places and policies that govern our local response to the covid 19 outbreak. I'm your host, Jeff Alito and the county administrator with Hamilton County. I'm here with my co host, as always, Bridget Doherty. And today we're going to be discussing as we always do the issues, challenges and opportunities Hamilton County faces as we battle this global pandemic. Today, I'm really excited about this episode, we've got a very special version of heart and hustle. We all know that during COVID, people have had to find ways to pass the time and just keep themselves sane. So whether we have started reading more, maybe watching more TV, getting involved in exercise program and buying bikes, watching the governor on TV in the afternoon, whatever it might be. And Bridget I don't know if you know or not one of the things that has gotten bigger, I was gonna say gotten big, but it's actually bigger is gardening. And with gardening with this, this expansion of gardening in the community, and all in addition to all the take home food that we're eating, we need to find a way of disposing of all this material in an environmentally friendly way. And that brings us to the issue of composting today. Yes. And so today, we're going to talk about composting. We are fortunate in Hamilton County to have two of the preeminent experts in the field with us here today. We have Michelle bolts engaged Bradford from the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services, Michelle, engage. Welcome. Thanks for having us. Hello, hello. Hello. Well, so today we want to talk about composting today. And I think it probably helps to start at a high level and talk about the benefits but let's let's set the stage for what we're really going to be trying to do today. Yeah, so we have with us here my co host is always Bridget Doherty and Bridget I know for a fact is probably one of the most environmentally conscious people I know and I can say this from experience and with some authority. I do have some background in the environmental field. And I do know watching Bridget and her day to day life whether it's recycling I mean the woman bikes into work every day, rain or shine, sometimes to her the detriment of her own personal safety but she does do it. But in conversations with Bridget one of the struggles that she has had is getting over the hump on backyard and home composting Bridget Am I correct?

Bridget Doherty:

You are I haven't done it yet. I just having pulled the trigger. I don't know exactly what's holding me back. But I do feel like a less than complete urbanist because I am not composting.

Jeff Aluotto:

Okay, so today we've got the perfect fix for this because we have Michelle engaged with us today. So we're going to call Bridget, The Reluctant composter. And let's just not put need. We know all of us that might point fingers in shame and Bridget know that a 90% of the people out there probably in the same boat. And we've got a lot of reluctant composters out there. So we're going to talk with Michelle engaged today to try to figure out a way over some of this reluctance. But before we do that, I think it's probably for first best to set the set the stage here for what we're really talking about and talk about composting for so someone who might be listening to the podcast just doesn't know a lot about it. Michelle, we'll start with you. Tell us just a little bit about what compost is. And what are the benefits to composting in your home. Absolutely. So

Michelle Balz:

backyard Composting is when you try to control the breakdown of organic material. And when I say organic, I mean things like food scraps. So banana peels, orange peels, that kind of thing. And then also yard trimming so the leaves that fall in your in your backyard. So you're trying to control that just like you would control in gardening, what plants grow where you are controlling that decomposition and you're creating a really beautiful soil amendment for your yard. And that soil amendment has tons of benefits for your garden it helps loosen the soil for better root penetration, it helps increase the water retention it acts like a sponge so that when it rains, it'll hold the water there for your plants to use later on. And then it provides essential nutrients for healthy plants. And it also not just provides the nutrients but it creates an environment where the microorganisms that give your plants the nutrients that they need can grow. So it is really beneficial for the soil. And it's only about 30% of what most people are throwing in the garbage could be easily composted in their backyard. So you're creating This beautiful soil amendment out of what most people consider garbage. So it really is a beneficial thing for you to do in your backyard.

Jeff Aluotto:

So as we talk about this from the perspective of Hamilton County, and we'll still try to stick to the focus of backyard composting, but in a bigger does composting happen at a bigger level in this community as well outside of just home composting. And when you think about waste management in Hamilton County, you know, people have leaves that they put out at their curb and things like that. Are there bigger ways to compost? Or is it mostly just at home backyard?

Michelle Balz:

Absolutely. So most of the communities in Hamilton County have curbside collection of things like leaves or our brush, and that material does go to a big composting facility and get composted. in Hamilton County, we also have three yard trimmings drop off sites that you can bring your yard materials if your community doesn't have curbside pickup, where you can bring it and it will be composted there as well.

Jeff Aluotto:

Got it. So it is a is Hamilton County has a solid waste management plan that we put together to determine what's the best way to manage our waste and to preserve our precious landfill space, etc. Composting is a is a big part of that I would imagine

Michelle Balz:

it is it's really important for us to reduce that waste going to the landfill.

Jeff Aluotto:

So as we as we think about this, then as a strategy for a homeowner, the solid waste district, I know is very active in trying to both educate homeowners on why this is a good thing to do, and also get the tools into their hands to allow them to do this. And I know gauge that's where you come in in terms of some of the community work that you have done in terms of getting tools into the into the hands of people so that they can more effectively compost at their homes and I would have met. So I wanted to ask you a little bit about that to talk a little bit about how you go about doing that. But also recognizing that we're now in the day and age of COVID bringing a whole bunch of people together to sell them compost bins that are maybe a little bit more challenging than it was in the past. So talk to us a little bit about how the district goes about promoting composting through its through sales and through other events.

Gage Bradford:

Sure. Thanks, Jeff. So right now, the recycling and solid waste district is hosting unfortunately, virtual seminars to go through the intricacies of backyard composting. In a perfect world, we would be doing that in classrooms, community spaces in person COVID has has nipped that in the bud. But Bridget going to you and being a reluctant composter. You know, I think I've got great opportunity and information for you today. All right. So, the county, like I said, we're doing we're hosting backyard composting seminars right now, which I think if you attended one would really lessen some of your concerns. And through those seminars, we're also kind of semi promoting a compost bin sale that we're doing. So whether it's you don't feel like you're educated enough on composting to get the job done in your own backyard, or you don't have the material or the actual bin to get it done. We've got all that settled for you here today. So briefly, Hamilton County recycles.org. If you were to go home and jump on that website, you would find availability to join one of our seminars, we've got three more upcoming this month, April 21 6:30pm, April 22 2pm, maybe a little late lunch in there with you, and April 29 at 6:30pm. So these are one hour long, they're brief, they're nice, you're going to learn all of the different things you need to do to become a confident backyard composter. There you go. And on top of that, everybody likes a good discount. So not only do we have a compost bin sale going, if you attend one of these seminars, you're going to get another $10 off coupon for these compost bins. So not only can I teach you how to compost, I can get you the best deal in the county for compost.

Bridget Doherty:

And I've looked at that. So you guys actually sell like if you were to Google or go onto Amazon, your compost bins are a little bit more affordable than what you would just find out in the marketplace

Gage Bradford:

from my research and the rest of our team that knows everything there is to know about composting. The bins that we're selling that we're offering through a program, start as low as $45. And typically you're going to find these same kinds of bins for 90 $100. And that's before you In the seminar and get the coupon, there we go.

Bridget Doherty:

All right, I don't know what I don't know what's stopping me, I do know that of my friend group that a lot of my girlfriend's will share and want to, you know, take part in the composting seminars together and kind of make it a thing online so that we can get together because I haven't seen him in, you know, a year much like everybody else. So I feel like you were totally speaking directly to me and my friend group, we need to get together for one of these seminars,

Gage Bradford:

we don't hesitate too long, there is limited seating in these virtual seminars and our compost bin sale, importantly to know does end end of day may 3. So attend a seminar and I'm pretty confident that you will end up buying a compost bin once you get the needed information and worries concerns out of the way. But this is a timely thing. end of May 3, no longer past that, will you be able to get this great discount.

Bridget Doherty:

No procrastination,

Jeff Aluotto:

so we've got the opportunity, right. So no excuses there. So now as Gabe said, we've got to provide you some of the information. So Bridget, this is gonna be your time. So what is it that what questions do you have, what concerns you have that may have kept you to this point in your life from backyard composting, let's you've got the two experts here. Let's just get it out there.

Bridget Doherty:

Okay, besides being a little on the lazy side, which I feel like I totally could have done this a long time ago. But hey, Evan, I think one of my major concerns is the smell, I live in a townhome. And so my kitchen is on the second floor. And I know I'm not going to be running downstairs to compost everything right away. But I might need some kind of receptacle to hold, you know, scraps while I have them until I you know, run downstairs and throw them outside. So what do you say to people who are concerned about being the owner.

Michelle Balz:

So definitely, you want to have a compost collection system in place in your kitchen. If you if you just rely on carrying it out one at a time, you're never going to do it, you'll forget about it. So having a special compost container, it can be one of the fancy ones that you buy that has the the carbon filter in the lid and a stainless steel or bamboo. But it can also be just an old butter tub that you you know, or an old coffee can that has the odor or the locking lid on it. If you has a lid and you put it in there, then that's going to that's going to help keep the odors down. You can also freeze your food scraps if you feel like it's going to be a while before you get out there. freezer food scraps. I tried to take mine out every other day. And I get no odors in my kitchen without if you wait four or five days in your kitchen. You it's gonna start decomposing in your kitchen. So you want to try to get it out there more frequently.

Bridget Doherty:

See, and what do you put it in? Like when you put it into that bin doesn't have like a plastic bag because I'm trying to avoid plastic. I feel like you know, maybe or you just are constantly cleaning out that bin after you dump it.

Michelle Balz:

Yeah, I rent my bin after after everyone. You can buy compostable liners. I've tried them before, but they don't really decompose very easily in your backyard bin. So I would just recommend rinsing it out afterward. Okay.

Bridget Doherty:

My other thought is, you know, what, what are some of the things that you've seen where you're like, No, that doesn't belong in the compost, or

Michelle Balz:

you definitely don't want to compost meat or cheese or anything with oil, those things are going to create odors. And if you're just starting out and you're really concerned about odors, I would just stick to fresh fruit and vegetable scraps. You know the peels Do you peel off your carrot, your banana peels, your Apple cores, that kind of thing. And then don't do anything cooked. Once you get comfortable with the fresh fruit and vegetable scraps then you could graduate to your cooked vegetables that you didn't get quite get to that got a little slimy in your fridge, but those have a little bit more risk of an odor. So you want to try to get comfortable with that. Also to mask odors. You want to make sure every time you put food scraps in your bin that you're putting a nice layer of leafs on top brown leaves and that is going to make it so you have no odors but it's also going to make sure you don't have fruit flies and you know bugs getting annoying and you're been

Jeff Aluotto:

so we're just a clarification. So I'm a brand new composter by best to start as you said with fresh food. There, you know someone had sauteed up some zucchini and mushrooms and some olive oil or something like that. And they have some leftover, maybe not the best choice right out of it right out of the gate.

Michelle Balz:

Right if you're a brand new composter I always recommend just starting with the fresh stuff and then graduating up to the cooked food cooked fruit and vegetables once once you're you know a Little bit more experienced.

Bridget Doherty:

Gotcha, gotcha. And I also have to graduate to eating more fruits and vegetables.

Jeff Aluotto:

What about what about space? So I know. And we were talking before the show, one of the things that we brought up as one of these issues was the space that it takes to compost in the actual backyard. Bridget said, she lives in a townhome. So you walk out the back, you probably have a neighbor, your right neighbor to your left, or depending upon where you are, how do you? How do the modern compost systems for the home deal with that issue?

Gage Bradford:

That's a great question, Jeff. So I think it's important to realize that there's a lot of different ways to get the job of composting done. If you're a homeowner with a huge backyard and kind of a do it yourself kind of person. You know, you can build your own compost bin system. And you can learn about all of these things in our seminars, which I will continue to plug on Hamilton County recycles.org. Maybe if if you're a little bit lazier or don't have the space, or whatever it is, and you decide to buy a compost bin premade off the market, that's going to be you know, it's not going to take up a lot of space. And that could also curtail some of the concerns you may have about animals or bugs or smells. But there's there's a ton of different ways to get the job of composting done a lot of different things, you can buy a lot of different things you can build. Then, obviously, you know, the more experienced you become with with your compost, you know, your compost in the backyard, it'll talk to you, it'll tell you if it's too dry, it's too wet. If it's too wet, it'll be smelly, maybe throw some leafs on there. Simple as that.

Bridget Doherty:

So what have you heard from your seminars? Like? What are some frequently asked questions where you're like, Okay, I need to cover this every time,

Gage Bradford:

every single time. You know, obviously, I think making the distinction between maybe some commercial composting, which can break down things like bones and meet, making that distinction, that's not something we're going to be doing. You know, in a typical backyard, your compost doesn't get active enough, it doesn't get hot enough to break those things down. But one thing is dog waste, or even human waste if you're buying compostable diapers and things of that nature. So typically, the distinction there is you just want if you're going to be throwing in any kind of animal waste, keep it to herb herbivores, you don't want your dog feces in there. Because there have different things in their waste that just not healthy for your for your compost bin. So that would that would be something I touch on every single time you get a lot of doggie bags that are supposed to be compostable, but no, that's a no go.

Jeff Aluotto:

So what about using the compost when you're done with it. So when we talk a little bit about how long it takes to get a good compost out of that, and then what it what that type of material is then good for afterwards.

Michelle Balz:

So it usually takes anywhere from three months to a year to back your compost. And it just depends on how lazy you want to be and how active of a composter you want to be. So if you get out there, and you aerate your pile once a week, you're making sure you balance the brown material and the green material which we talked about in the seminars, you really can get finished compost in a few months. Most people aren't that active though they they turn it maybe once a month, maybe never. And they just want a place to put their compost and they're harvesting at once a year. I'm more of the once a year person, I've got two little kids, I just don't have time to be out there all the time. But if you know the material is going to compost whether you're really active or not. So I would expect you know once a year, if you really are wanting finished compost quickly there are some methods that you can use such as like a compost tumbler, which is up off the ground and really easy to turn that's going to get you finished compost faster. But for the most part, it's going to take almost a year.

Jeff Aluotto:

And then primary use of the material gardens were any other uses that you'd recommend.

Michelle Balz:

Absolutely. So it's really great soil and then if you have heavy clay soil or really sandy soil, it's going to make your soil a better environment for your plants. So digging it into your soil if you have a new bed that you're trying to amend the soil. You can also use it as a mulch so you can spread it over the top. It turns out it's actually looks really beautiful so it's going to look nice as a mulch. If you don't have garden beds and you just have a lawn, you can sprinkle it over top and that will that will work its way down into the ground and help Your your grass, you can also make compost tea and almost treat it like a fertilizer. And so there's instructions online and making that you don't drink it. You, you spread it out. Important, don't it's really gonna taste like dirt. But you spread it out and you can you treat it almost like a fertilizer and it helps it helps fertilize your plants.

Jeff Aluotto:

Especially if you've had your dog waste in there. I suppose that would not be best for your health. So, Bridget, how are we doing?

Bridget Doherty:

I think we're doing pretty good. I feel like okay, I feel like maybe the seminar is gonna help me if I sit through that to kind of get any, you know, pat me up in order to get ready to buy the compost bin, I'll definitely look into something that I can sit on my counter that I can just wash out every time I've got some scraps. We've got it my mother in law always puts egg shells and anything she ever plants, can you put egg shells in your compost,

Michelle Balz:

you can it's going to be the last thing that decomposes. It does decompose really slow, but egg shells are a great addition, you can't put the actual egg but the egg shell you can and that adds some good calcium and other minerals. in it. I've heard I'm not a gardening expert, but I've heard that it also deters slugs. So if you have it in your finished compost, it will deter slugs from getting into your plants. And then another question, coffee grounds, which are all over my house. Absolutely. coffee grounds are a great addition they're really high in nitrogen, and they're really small, the smaller the material, the faster it's going to break down so it will break down really fast, it'll add a little boost to your compost.

Gage Bradford:

And that's the same whether it's you know, pumpkin gourds, or, you know anything else your your egg shells, if it's broken down a little bit more before you put it into your composting bin, the quicker it's going to biodegrade and in break down into eventual finished compost.

Jeff Aluotto:

Great. gauge you mentioned earlier about the compost generating enough heat. What's the what type of heat within a compost bin? Are we talking about? What when temperatures did that get to

Gage Bradford:

with backyard composting, you know, you don't reach the heights of things to break down bones and whatnot you're looking at with a healthy compost ban, I would say in between 90 and 120 degrees, would you agree Michelle 1900 4090 and 140 degrees. So if if you're really active and you know really taking a liking to going out there and fiddling around with your compost a couple times a month, some people do like to check the temperature just to see how active it is. So if you go out there and it's you know, 110 degrees, you've likely got a very active compost bin that's really healthy and heading in the direction you want.

Jeff Aluotto:

So I asked that question, because I know it was not on our list of questions to ask here today. But I wanted to number one, throw in a little bit of science and number to challenge our guests here a little bit because right before the show, I think Michelle said there's not a question you can throw out to us about composting that we won't be able to answer. So I just wanted to tell you that on the spot to see if that was true. And and you guys passed with flying colors. So awesome. Good job. And

Bridget Doherty:

also, can we talk about how Michelle is kind of the local celebrity composting, you run a blog, what's your blog handle?

Michelle Balz:

It's called Confessions of a composter. And I would highly recommend you follow it. If you want tips on backyard composting, we try to keep them really short and fun and entertaining. So we have lots of tips on their new materials. And you know, it's just an easy read. Fantastic.

Bridget Doherty:

So gauge how long have you been doing this with environmental services?

Unknown:

Well, I've only been with Hamilton County environmental services for about a half a year. So most of my composting experience actually goes towards the industrial side. I spent a couple of years serving in AmeriCorps at the University of Tennessee. And when you're talking about universities, you're talking about a lot of wasted food and you're talking about 1000s of tons of food that's been untouched, basically going to the landfill, which is not what we want. So you know, that's a little bit different. We were we were making t bone steaks disappear in less than a month with some of the temperatures we would get with the wind rose there. But growing up, I was always very aware of food waste and how that was close to the devil in my household. So you know, I think it's just been something that's been around me in my life for for quite a while.

Jeff Aluotto:

Awesome. So the great thing about that is I love the fact Bridgette, that you highlighted once again, just the expertise that we have here in Hamilton County, whether it's whether it's in the 911 field or elections, the courts, the crime lab, wherever you are in Fulton County and in this case in the environmental field, there's just so many experts in our departments in our agencies, who are the best in the business at what they do, and show engage and really appreciate everything that you do on behalf of Hamilton County residents and helping them take a more environmentally responsible approach to to their lives. So thank you for that. And on behalf of Brittany, who is now a will be an active composter, I want to thank you for listening to episode eight of heart and hustle in Hamilton County. And just a reminder to subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify and other providers. As always, you can find the podcast on our website, Hamilton County ohio.gov on the county administrator's page so thank you for listening and we will see you next time on heart and hustle in Hamilton County.