The Wicked Green: The French Revolution

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

This week, France became the first country in the world to ban single-use plastic cups and dishes. This year, the French have been leading the way in banning needless waste and creating more environmentally friendly infrastructure. In February, the country’s Parliament voted to ban supermarket waste. In March, a ban on plastic bags went into effect. In July, Paris opened the first section of a 28-mile bicycle “super highway.” At least in France, the United Nations’ Paris Agreement is being taken to heart. After all, home is where the heart is.


In France, say no to plastic, or non au plastique

Businesses in France must comply with the plastic cup ban by January 1, 2020, though I hope many move to comply much sooner. Each year, more than 4.7 billing cups are wasted and few are recycled. To comply, businesses must use cups that are compostable and at least partially made of bio-sourced materials. Alternatively, businesses can use re-usable cups and dishes, of course.

What I’m not sure about is the availability of commercial composting facilities in France that will be able to process all of these additional bio-plastics. I suspect that many will need to be built around the country. And while compostable plastics are more appealing than traditional plastics, I’m not sure that their benefit is all that great and may only continue to fuel a throwaway culture. But that’s an argument for a different day.

Please add questions, comments, concerns, compostable forks, etc. in the comment section below!

Also, in astrophysics, it can take a photon 40,000 years to travel from the core of the sun to its surface, but only eight minutes to travel the rest of the way to Earth.

The Wicked Green: Trash 2 Treasure

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Ah, September 1, or as the college kids say, “Allston Christmas.” Every year, the end of August and beginning of September brings a frenzy of moving vans, bad traffic and displaced household items scattered around the city of Boston, particularly in areas densely populated by college students. But unlike December 25th, Allston Christmas looks more like an apocalypse, due to the mounds of displaced furniture lining the streets. Save for a relatively small batch of treasures that lucky passers-by’s have collected, most of the furniture is hauled off to the landfill.


Allston Christmas in all its glory. Credit: Olga Khvan/ Boston Magazine

Allston Christmas or not, a lot of salvageable furniture hiding on these streets goes unnoticed. On top of that, adding to landfills creates more greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, and costs the community a lot of money through disposal fees. The problem is – not surprisingly – particularly bad around college towns, which is why a former student from the University of New Hampshire, Alex Fried, founded Trash 2 Treasure (T2T). Trash 2 Treasure is an entirely student-led group that collects unwanted items, stores them in a safe place, and resells them at the beginning of each fall semester. In doing this, the group has saved thousands of dollars for the University and hundreds of thousands of tons of would-be waste from landfills.

Okay, a quick disclaimer. I attended UNH and I’ve personally donated items in the spring and purchased items in the fall. I love it. There are a lot of fantastic things about T2T. It’s entirely free and extremely simple for students to donate unwanted items. Volunteers set up donation zones in dorms and other central campus locations, then haul, sort, and resell the items. All of the profits from the sales go back into operating costs.

“On a fundamental level, waste is just resources in the wrong place.”

-Alex Freid, founder, Post-Landfill Action Network

Programs like Trash 2 Treasure, and its parent nonprofit the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) demonstrate that recycling can be cost effective, work well, and reduce your carbon footprint. Since 2010, T2T has expanded to over 40 schools across the country, and it only continues to grow. So, you students at MIT, Northeastern, and Clark, check out your alternative options on or off campus before you toss that old chair on the side of the road. You never know who might want it.

Please add questions, comments, concerns, sofas, etc. to the comment section below!

Also, in quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that the momentum and position of a particle cannot be measured at the same time. If this were possible, it is theorized that the entire past and present of the particle could be calculated.

The BiG Stink: Organic vs. Conventional, Round 3 – Energy Use

Welcome back to the BiG Stink and thanks for joining me for Round 3 of the great conventional vs. organic farming inquisition! Here’s a rapid recap: So far in this debate I, your trusty guide Faith, have defined organic and conventional agriculture; explored the impacts of both methods on soil health; and examined the ins and outs of land use efficiency. Today’s agenda? Diving into emissions and energy inputs for conventional and organic farming.

For my purposes, energy inputs for crop production are fossil fuels needed for equipment and transport of materials, fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides. The largest energy sucker for organic farming was diesel fuel. Diesel fuel is needed to keep on-site machinery rolling and to bring in supplies such as seeds and natural soil amendments like compost and fertilizers like manure.

When assessing conventional agriculture, though, diesel fuel use was in the number two slot. The single largest energy sink in modern agriculture was the production and distribution of nitrogen fertilizers. To let that soak in, consider that the production and distribution of one ton of synthetic fertilizer was estimated to consume the equivalent of one and a half tons of gasoline! One study found that nitrogen fertilizer accounted for a whopping 41% of total energy input. Compared to fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides were miniscule, accounting for a measly 10% of inputs for conventional farming. Though it varied from study to study, organic agriculture inputs overall were found to be 28-32% less than those of conventional methods.

“Organic farms were superior energy misers than their conventional counterparts and were found to require nearly a third less energy inputs.”

Much like inputs, greenhouse gas emissions were dominated by nitrogen. The single largest contributor to emissions in conventional and organic farming was nitrous oxide (N20). Both methods spew a fair amount of the potent greenhouse gas during farming. Agriculture (be it conventional or organic) is the largest source of N20 and accounts for 79% of U.S. emissions of nitrous oxide. Where is all this nitrogen coming from? As mentioned while dissecting inputs, conventional farming relies heavily on synthetic fertilizers and nitrous oxide is a byproduct created during the manufacture of the synthetic fertilizers.

What about organic agriculture? Since most synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are off limits for organic methods, farmers rely upon the use of compost and manure for nitrogen.  N20 is a naturally occurring compound and a normal byproduct of the nitrogen cycle. Nitrous oxide is emitted when microbes break down the various forms of nitrogen (nitrate, nitrite, nitrogen dioxide – I’ll stop now) found in manure and compost.

Naturally occurring or not, organic and conventional agriculture have the same major greenhouse gas emitter, N20. That does not mean the farming methods have the same overall emissions! According to the Rodale Farming Systems Trial (FST), conventional agriculture oozes out nearly 40% more greenhouse gas emissions per pound of crop, largely owing to the manufacture, production,and application of synthetic fertilizers.

Interestingly, in my previous post on land use I pointed out that conventional agriculture puts out more crop per acre. However, now I know organic farms were superior energy misers than their conventional counterparts and were found to require nearly a third less energy inputs. The “organic advantage” means greater crop output relative to energy inputs and fewer emissions per pound of crop. Or in other words: more bang per energy buck. And less gassy.
And so with that, we’re three quarters of the way through this series and the end is nigh! Please stay tuned, keep your eyes peeled, and keep an ear out for the final round of the conventional vs. organic debate, where we’ll explore the uplifting subject of chemical and pesticide leaching.

The Wicked Green: Self-Healing Fabric

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

I love clothes. I love sewing and crocheting clothes. I love creating upcycled merch for Bootstrap, or fashioning my own apparel out of reused bits and pieces. But I also like to get down and dirty (I work for a composting company after all), and, as such, sometimes my clothes don’t hold up to the wear and tear. I commonly find myself wondering where I collected the latest hole in my sleeve or rip in my jeans. Unfortunately, not all clothes are as easy or discreet to fix as others.

Enter: squid teeth! Some squid have evolved in such a way that their tentacles have suction cups with little ring teeth (called SRT) which are made entirely of proteins rather than bone or other hard tissues. These proteins have the ability of transitioning between solid and rubber, which allows them to be molded into virtually any 3D shape. Scientists have been able to isolate these proteins, recreate them in a lab and harness a malleable fabric. With the addition of water and pressure, patches of this fabric can bond with surrounding material. By doing so, scientists have effectively created a self healing material. Shirt holes be gone! You can watch a patch of fabric in action in the video below.

One of my favorite things about this new technology is that the protein is coated on a natural fiber, which means it’s compostable! Thus, we don’t have to add more polypropylene or other synthetic fibers to landfills. Use one of these patches on a shirt that’s 100% cotton or silk, and the whole thing is safe to compost. It’s just one more way we’re creating a sustainable future in fashion (along with pineapple leather!)

Please add your thoughts, questions, concerns, dental problems, and other comments below!

Also, everyone has cancerous cells in their body. It’s when the body stops recognizing these mutations (50% of cancers include mutations at the p53 gene) that it becomes a problem.

The Wicked Green: Mealworms to the Rescue!

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

It happens to us all: you’re in the market for a new TV, maybe one that’s energy efficient with a really crisp HD picture. You save up all your money and finally pull the trigger to buy it. You take it home and unwrap it and it’s padded in styrofoam. You’re bummed because even though styrofoam is technically “recyclable,” you don’t have anywhere to recycle it, so you’re forced to put it out with your curbside landfill pickup.

Well, have I got news for you! It turns out that mealworms, those little wiggly buggers, can eat styrofoam with no negative repercussions, effectively turning it into a nutritious soil amendment. It’s the same process that happens when red wiggler worms feed on your food scraps in your home compost bin. Researchers in a collaborative study between Stanford University and Beihang University published their findings in September, 2015 and our joyful squeals haven’t stopped ever since.


Here’s the catch: one hundred mealworms can only consume between 35 and 39 milligrams of styrofoam per day, which means we have a long way to go before that floating-Texas-sized trash patch in the ocean gets cleaned up by our little friends. For comparison, the average adult housefly weighs approximately 21.4 milligrams. Nonetheless, the discovery is an important one, because it gives scientists a clue as to one way they can start to tackle the problem at hand. Of course, we could also be making an effort to reduce our production and consumption of those products in the first place, but that won’t reduce the issue we already have.


What are your thoughts? Questions? Comments? Disbeliefs? Concerns? Favorite beetles? Please add them to the comments below.

Also, due to Saturn’s low density, it would float in water (the only planet in our solar system that would do so).

The Wicked Green: How Mushrooms Will Save The World

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Whatever your culinary preferences are regarding mushrooms, it turns out that there are some seriously green uses with fungi outside of the kitchen. Indeed, there are good, hardworking folks throughout the world concocting unique ideas and products with mushrooms that may just help save the planet.

Back in February, I found out about Coeio, a company that produces the Infinity Burial Suit. What’s so special about it? It’s completely biodegradable and made from mushrooms and other microorganisms. Bodies buried in the suits eventually break down and aid the earth. Heck, they even make suits for pets to be buried in! You can read more about the Infinity Suit over at Grist.

As beautiful as some caskets may be, they also act to slow the process of decomposition. Thus, each and every body that is buried in a casket acts more like a personalized underground landfill rather than a compost pile that returns the body back to the earth. Couple this with the fact that populations continue to rise and age, solutions for alternative burials will become increasingly important over the coming decades.

Humans are one thing, but what about all that pesky plastic we are creating and throwing away? Plastic can survive over 150 years in a landfill- that’s bad news for Mother Earth. But it turns out that mushrooms can help us tackle that issue, too. We’ve known since 2012 that fungi can break down plastic, but no one has really figured out a great way to harness that power and use it to our advantage – until now. A joint effort between Livin Studio and Utrecht University led to the development of the Fungi Mutarium, which not only breaks down plastic, but leaves an edible product in its wake!

It works like this: pods of agar (an algae-based type of gelatin) are loaded up with plastic waste and fungi, which feeds on the waste and leaves a puffy mushroom-like food product within a few weeks. The plastic is completely broken down and not incorporated into the fungal matter so the end product is non-toxic and 100% edible for human consumption. These pods might be hard to come by today, but with more funding and research, we could all have plastic-fighting fungi in our kitchens in a few short years.

Whew! Like wild mushrooms in a damp forest, we covered a lot of ground here. Please feel free to add comments, questions, concerns, tiny hair-like fibers, your opinions on mushrooms, and other thoughts in the comment section below. Happy digesting!

Also, the human body consists of more bacterial cells (~39 trillion) than actual human cells (~30 trillion).


The BiG Stink: Organic vs. Conventional, Round 2 – Land Use

By Faith Miller
Operations Manager at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

After a bit of a hiatus owing to Bootstrap’s seemingly unbridled growth (1,600 subscribers and counting), I’m thrilled to announce the return of the BiG Stink! As you may recall, I left off in the midst of a whopper of an investigation: Is organic farming better for the environment than conventional farming? There are hundreds of angles to consider to answer that question and I will not make you read through hundreds of posts, but I did chose four specific topics to cover: soil health, land use efficiency, energy use, and chemical runoff.

Last time I defined organic and conventional farming and explored the effects of each farming method on soil health. This time around we’ll delve into crop yields. How do organic and conventional methods compare when it comes to produce per acre? Depends on what kind of food is being grown. Are we talking fruits, vegetables, legumes or grains?

FullSizeRender (2)

BSC co-founder Igor and Faith drop off scraps at organic farm Wright-Locke Farm.

When going head to head, organic and conventional fruit production finish in a statistical dead heat. Fruits such as melons, apples, and tomatoes (yes, tomatoes are fruit) have similar yields per acre regardless of farming techniques. In fact, organically grown tomatoes (considered separately from other fruits) were statistically indistinguishable from conventional tomatoes. Oilseeds such as sunflowers and canola performed well under either farming method. Legumes such as peas and beans also had similar yields.

So far so good for both methods when it comes to crop yield; here comes trouble though. Organic grain and vegetable yields are underwhelming when compared to conventional acres. Organic acres of grains such as corn and wheat are 26% less productive than conventional ones. Among vegetables, organic farming yields 33% less food per acre (!). When considering multiple crop types (grains, fruits, vegetables, oilseeds, and legumes), organic crops produce 25% less food per acre overall than conventional ones. That 25% gap is a big deal. One study projected that in 2014 growing all US crops organically would have required farming 109 million more acres of land, an area equivalent to all the parkland and wild-land areas in the lower 48 states.

“While conventional crops are pumped with synthetic nitrogen, organic crops are limited by the slower release of nitrogen from compost and green manure.”

What is causing the gap between organic and conventional yields? Scientists suspect organic farms produce less food per acre because of nitrogen availability, a crucial nutrient for plant growth. While conventional crops are pumped with synthetic nitrogen, organic crops are limited by the slower release of nitrogen from compost and green manure.

Don’t count out organic farming just yet! With expert knowledge and careful management, organic farming can equal or even surpass conventional yields. Well-educated organic farmers know when to apply nitrogen sources to achieve maximum growth during peak growing times as well as how to manage soil pH and other factors that could limit organic yields. After 30 years of study, the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial (FST) found that organic methods can produce just as much food as conventional ones, whether it be a fruit, grain or vegetable.

Let’s go back to the original question: How do organic and conventional methods compare when it comes to produce per acre? Currently organic yields lag behind conventional ones and when it comes to output, conventional is king. That doesn’t mean we should give up on organic agriculture. With better technology and an increased understanding of soil health, nutrient availability, and plant growth, organic farming has been shown to compete with industrial methods. But organic farming still has a lot of work and research to do before it can top industrial systems. Indeed — at this very minute — conventional farming takes the cake when it comes to food per acre.

The Wicked Green: Baldor Eliminates Food Waste

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

If you’ve been following Bootstrap Compost (@compostboston) on Twitter, you’ll know that every Wednesday, I post an article (or sometimes video!) related to sustainability and “green” innovation. If you didn’t already know that, now you do! You can track those articles with the hashtag #WickedWednesday. While Twitter is a great way to spread ideas, it doesn’t really allow for much in-depth discussion. I whole-heartedly believe that discussion is integral in propelling us forward, both as individuals and as a society, so we at Boot HQ decided to formally turn those Wicked Wednesday posts into a blog series. Without further ado, I present to you “The Wicked Green,” and invite you, dear readers, to participate in a weekly forum discussion.

At Bootstrap, we frequently talk about food waste as it’s near and dear to our hearts. Every so often we hear of other local businesses working to eliminate food waste in one way or another, and it’s almost always on our radar. So, when I caught wind of Baldor’s lofty goal of eliminating 100% of their food waste, I was interested, to say the least. How are they doing this? What’s their process? Where is the food waste going? What about the “other stuff” involved with produce distribution: the pallets, boxes, plastic, the list goes on.

Garlic Scapes

Garlic Scapes at Baldor Boston. Credit: Wendy Maeda/ Boston Globe Staff

The short answer is that Baldor has developed a multi-faceted strategy for dealing with food waste. The first preference is for any edible food to go to people who could consume the food. This is akin to grocery stores selling “ugly produce” at a discount, and it goes a long way toward eliminating waste. If the scraps aren’t suitable as is for human consumption, they’re dehydrated, blended, and turned into a powder that chefs can use in their foods or beverages. Other items, like pits and peels, are sent away at a rate of 16,000 lbs per week to a farm in upstate New York where they are consumed by pigs, who will later feed your bacon craze. The last resort? Scraps are composted, where they’ll turn into a rich soil amendment and will go back into the food production cycle.

“Something on this scale wouldn’t work without a team effort,” [McQuillan] notes. “It is so cool how we all have a stake in this.”

I love that Baldor is taking so many steps toward eliminating their food waste, and also making an effort to eliminate other waste around their entire process as well. It speaks volumes as to the type of rockstars these folks are, and it sets an important example for other produce and food distributors around New England, the United States, and globally. Cutting food waste at home is great, but it will only go so far if the big cats aren’t also making an effort. I have to wonder: who will be next to hop aboard?

I invite you: please add comments, questions, concerns, burps, and other thoughts in the comment section below. Happy digesting!

Also, the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.

Bootstrap Grows: 8 Tips for a Healthy Garden

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

With the weather heating up and your seedlings firmly planted in your garden beds, we’re ready to share some tips on how to keep your garden healthy. If you haven’t started growing yet, don’t worry, we’ve got your back with “7 Tips to Sprout your Garden“.  We’ll continue to share more as the season continues, but for now, here are 8 tips to keep your garden happy and healthy. 

1.) Don’t overcrowd your herbs: cilantro, chives, dill, and parsley each need 1 square foot between plants; basil, thyme, and tarragon each need 2 square feet; rosemary, sage, mint, and oregano each need 3-4 square feet.

2.) Fruits and veggies also need plenty of space, but you can save space by growing vertically, either on a wall or in a container.

3.) Young plants need a lot of attention! Water them frequently, and don’t forget to trim any dead or yellowing leaves.

4.) You don’t need chemical pesticides to ward off predators. You can steep onion, garlic, and hot pepper in hot water for several days to make a natural spray.

kale bucket

Back at the Boot, we’re growing. More info and pricing on our self-contained bucket gardens coming soon.

5.) Similarly, a solution of water and powdered kelp will keep Japanese beetles and aphids at bay.

6.) One last spray: a spoonful of canola oil + a few drops of soap in water will kill mites and aphids. But don’t use it in hot, sunny, weather, as the soap will cause leaves to burn.

7.) Not all bugs are foes: ladybugs will eat harmful insects. You can attract them by planting herbs like dill, fennel, and cilantro, or flowers like dandelions and geraniums.

8.) Got rabbits? Plant marigolds or garlic around your plants, and eliminate tall weeds and other hiding spots to keep the bunnies out.

Client Q&A: Southie Simmons

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Ahh, Southie. Home to many young professional implants and native Bostonians alike. 11-4-2015 11-10-12 AMAnd while it isn’t the largest community of Bootstrappers, their excitement for composting is second to none. We could casually mention an article from Caught in Southie featuring us and longtime subscriber Mari, or we could drop the ever-growing list of businesses earning their green keep. Instead, today we’ll focus on Katherine “Southie” Simmons, another longtime subscriber, home cook, and young professional living in Southie. We couldn’t do it without you, Katherine!

southie monument

A beautiful day at Dorchester Heights in Southie

1. How long have you been a client of Bootstrap Compost?
For almost two years, since August of 2014.

2. How did you hear about us?
Honestly, I forget, but I heard long before I signed up. I had always kept Bootstrap in my mind and when I moved I had a much better location for pick ups/drop offs and storing my bucket.

3. Why did you sign up for Bootstrap?
I cook and always have a lot of scraps.  It seemed like such a waste that I was using my garbage disposal so much – or even worse, stinking my trash out.

4. In what other ways do you recycle, conserve and stay environmentally sound?
I do recycle and try to buy locally grown food when possible.  I’m also a member of Boston Organics.

5. How are you enjoying the service so far?
I love it!  And when I have a busy week, it always amazes me how much I can stuff in my bucket!  Just this week, I had some dead plants, cut flowers, and food scraps of all kinds – coffee grinds and banana peels are usually the most frequent fliers in my bucket.


Taking a green bucket to a whole new level!