Turning garbage into gold | April 23, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - April 23, 2010

Turning garbage into gold

Residents spread the passion of 'compost culture'

by Sue Dremann

They might not have names, but the worms in Kristen and John Anderson's College Terrace worm composter are still the family's pets. Eight-year-old Sophie loves to play with the wriggly critters and John says they do seem to have their own personalities.

This story contains 1553 words.

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Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.


Posted by Relative numbers for CO2, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 23, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I am kind of worried when reporters/editors/journalists lose track of relative numbers of CO2 production. Household composting even if the entire bay area resident does it - is just a tiny - tiny fraction of what is produced by industries.

I am awaiting the day of hysterical laughter when folks slow down their breathing to reduce the amount of CO2 they produce.

We need to look at relative numbers before we make a big deal out of events like these.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2010 at 6:49 am

If only Starbucks and Peets would save their coffee grounds instead of throwing them out, it would make great compost or food for a worm farm.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 25, 2010 at 9:39 pm

There was an article and website years ago about a company called "Changing World Technolgies" ... Web Link ... who claimed it could build plants that would eat up garbage and turn them into oil and raw materials through a process they called "thermal depolymerization".

If this is not just hype, I don't see why we could not set up a local industry to process garbage into energy and raw materials.

What I have been wondering about in the compost thing is ... what is someone puts something either knowingly or unknowingly in the compost, like something toxic, chemical, bioagent or something, how does that get found out?

It would be great if all people were just normal altruistic citizens trying to do good, but there seem to be a lot of toxic people too. The first article I saw when I logged into here was an article by someone who called suicide victims losers. I flagged the article and it disappeared fast ... but we'll never know what drives such subhumans to spend time and energy to do stuff like that or worse.

So ... how do we know that compost and the stuff that goes into it is safe?

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 25, 2010 at 9:41 pm

I agree composting is not so wonderful to reduce global warming, but think of the volume of stuff we throw out and concern ourselves with that could be recycled into compost.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2010 at 8:16 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Any processing of garbage and waste requires an industrial site of the sort we have been vigorously closing since I have lived here. Haul the stuff away to a location unlikely to disturb neighbors and then do any processing that yields benefit and profit.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2010 at 10:12 am

This type of lifestyle goes in and out of fashion. I recall many, many people doing this in the 70s and 80s. It's a lot of work to reduce waste in families. It may not do much to C02 levels, but it can reduce waste and instills the values of reuse and recyle, puts people in closer touch with the earth, the cycles of life and where our food comes from. What gets tiresome is the hyper-Palo Alto focus of these articles, even though I understand it's a Palo Alto-based publication. But really - people all over the peninsula are composting, so what's news is that it's a trend again.

Posted by BornHere, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 26, 2010 at 12:18 pm

BTW, Anonymous - Peet's does make its coffee grounds available for composters. Just ask them. They used to post notices in their shops, but I haven't seen them for awhile.

Posted by Creighton Beryl, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2010 at 12:49 pm

"People serious about helping the environment are turning to composting in its many forms to reduce how much trash they send to landfills, cut down on the amount of carbon-dioxide they produce..."

How can people who are serious about cutting down the amount of CO2 they produce be turning to composting? Decaying compost returns 100% of the carbon-dioxide the plants had removed from the air back into the atmosphere. If it produces free methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas, as an intermediate product then the environmental damage is even worse. If you're concerned about global warming, bury your yard waste deep and keep it there until it locks its carbon up in coal.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Creighton, I've wondered about the methane effects of composting, but not enough to really pursue answers. How serious is it? Does it depend on how much composting one is doing?

The compost perspective I was always exposed to had to do w/reducing waste and creating great soil for gardens, pretty manageable goals. Composters weren't told they were combatting climate change when I was a kid and surrounded by them. It was more a matter of getting back into contact w/the earth, organic gardening, that sort of thing.

Here's an interesing article from Mother Jones last year, which talks about a study that has pertinent info:

Web Link

I guess I better read it to answer my own questions!

Posted by Creighton Beryl, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2010 at 5:16 pm

"The compost perspective I was always exposed to had to do w/reducing waste and creating great soil for gardens..."

Those are indulgences we can no longer afford in this CO2-driven climate change era. Compost becomes compost because various living organisms feed on its constituent hydrocarbons, and they in turn release a diversity of metabolic waste products including carbon dioxide and methane. Both are greenhouise gases, so neither is good news for the warming climate.

Burning methane to produce energy converts its carbon (75% by weight) directly into carbon dioxide. By the way, a methane-fired electric generator converts only about 25-30% of the carbon combustion energy into electric power. 70-75% of the CO2 it produces goes uselessly out the exhaust.

Ultimately all the carbon in composted material is returned to the atmosphere as CO2. Composting is antithetical to preventing global warming; in fact, it hastens the process.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Creighton, thank you for taking the time to respond to my questions and address this issue. I will take the initiative to educate myself on the subject. Did you happen to read the article in Mother Jones I sent the link for? If so, what do you think?

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2010 at 8:29 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Our sewerage treatment plant has to be near the bay, but the waste handling can occur almost anywhere. EPA is celebrating closing one industrial site, how long before t charge of environmental racism hits a garbage processing plant?

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2010 at 9:18 am

We've composted pretty aggressively (90% of possible waste?) the last few years. We fill up our ~2 gallon kitchen compost container about once a week. That's for a family of 5. So the amount we divert from landfill seems pretty trivial - if we threw it in the trash, our trash volume would be about the same (1 trash can per week).

So while my wife likes the compost for the garden, I don't get the big ecological benefit. And to the point of the poster above, it may actually have offsetting negative consequences. Can anyone explain why composting is actually environmentally important?

Posted by Creighton Beryl, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 27, 2010 at 4:48 pm

"Did you happen to read the article in Mother Jones I sent the link for? If so, what do you think?"

I read it. As often happens in advocacy, it only considers the favored aspect of an alternative and neglects to think through the full situation. For example, let's take their word that compost is better on farm fields than manure. However, the manure exists, and what's to be done with it instead of putting it on the strawberries? Like compost, manure returns 100% of its carbon to the atmosphere as CO2 as it decays, generating its share of intermediary methane in the process.

The only sustainable carbon-aware solution is to bury both of them deep and make what use we can of what methane inevitably comes back up.

Posted by zachary, a resident of another community
on May 1, 2010 at 10:31 am

I live in hawaii and have a worm farm.check out www.whinotgarden.ning.com

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