Tag Archives: Green Business

INTERNal Dialogue: Josh the Intern Geeks Out at Home Depot, Talks Social Media Appreciation, Tests Soil Quality

By Joshua Michael
Intern at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Wow! It’s been quite an adventure at Bootstrap over the last few days. I watched the garage door break, I took part in a very “social” and inspiring social media meeting, Emma and I had a moment bonding over garbage receptacles, and I was given a task to research the soil quality of Bootstrap’s compost. And I painted a wall. All in a week’s work, so let’s get right to it.

Hi my name is Josh and I’m your official Bootstrap Intern

If you own a small business or know anyone who operates a small business, especially a small business that relies on vehicles, then you understand that having your garage door malfunction is a pretty big deal. While Andy, Igor and Faith scrambled to find a quick and effective solution, the Boot remarkably did not lose a step throughout, continuing to serve all clients amid a minor crisis, everyone working together for the collective good. It was impressive to watch the teamwork and camaraderie that keeps Bootstrap succeeding, day in and day out.

“It’s cool to see Bootstrap use social media as a resource to push for causes that need attention or are under attack by government or otherwise. As much as this company is about having a positive impacting on the environment and the community through the service, everyone here is also focused on giving the public access to information, serving as a voice for individuals and inspiring others to make a difference.”

On the topic of camaraderie, I’ve been sitting in on weekly social media strategy meetings with Emma, Andy, and Igor. To say that the meetings are entertaining would be an understatement. Every Monday morning, we engage in a healthy discussion and a few healthy laughs as the company prepares its weekly messaging. It’s a time to share ideas, opinions and maybe a joke or two. From planning a Twitter campaign aimed at providing info on soil science, to pondering over Bill Nye as an option for Bootstrap’s Famous Friday feature (but ultimately arriving at the Great American Chuck Norris, no offense, Bill), everyone does their best to keep a smile on everyone’s face and a huge part of that is through Bootstrap’s creative and open approach toward social media. For Bootstrap, social media is a space to give shout outs to movements, agencies, companies, and individuals that partner with the company. It’s also a time to figure out what Bootstrap is all about from a social responsibility perspective: what message are we spreading & what message should we be spreading?

Chuck Norris appears on Bootstrap’s “Famous Friday” Instagram campaign

I appreciate the social media meetings because it is a brief hour to unwind and discuss what is important locally, historically, and environmentally. As the intern, I’m usually tasked with collecting information for the company’s Twitter feed. It’s cool to see Bootstrap use social media as a resource to push for causes that need attention or are under attack by government or otherwise. As much as this company is about having a positive impacting on the environment and the community through the service, everyone here is also focused on giving the public access to information, serving as a voice for individuals and inspiring others to make a difference.

A Bootstrap SimpleHuman compost receptacle, provided to our office accounts.

Now for the most important part of my week. Emma and I took off to Home Depot to buy receptacles for new commercial accounts. It was here that we learned how intrigued we both are by the variety of garbage can designs, shapes, colors and options, especially ones of the SimpleHuman variety that Bootstrap buys. More importantly, during our travels, Emma and I discussed the impacts of compost, the courses available to better understand composting, and what types of ideas help Bootstrap function more efficiently on a day to day basis. Thanks to Emma, I got a crash course in business development and soil science!

Speaking of soil science, my last task for the week was to collect samples of Bootstrap’s compost to test the composition of the soil. Essentially the process was collecting three separate compost samples from the farm, putting them into a zip lock bag and sending them over the labs at UMass Boston. Why does Bootstrap do test its compost? Well, the samples are taken to gauge nutrient density, check pH levels, the cation exchange capacity (the ability of soil to hang on to essential nutrients as a way to buffer acidification) and to screen for toxic heavy metals. Clearly, the test is super important when you’re in the business of distributing healthy and happy soil amendment back to the community. I will keep you posted on what we find out.

Oh wait, there’s more. In my downtime, I also painted a wall in the office and jumped on a conference call with our insurance agent. So yea, just another week in the life of an intern at the Boot!

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The Wicked Green: Seven Tips to Put Your Black Gold to Good Use

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Here at Bootstrap, we’re basking in the glow of another successful Compost Week! – our triannual mega giveaway of soil amendment back to the community. Some of us are celebrating with a ski trip to Vermont, others are taking in Big Sky in Montana, and surely, we’re all happy that the long hours of our successful effort are behind us so we can enjoy a nice, warm meal. As we salute our largest Compost Week! effort ever, we take pride in its monumental impact: the distribution of a whopping three tons (6,396 lbs) of compost back to the Greater Boston community, a feat only made possible by the hardworking, hard-core individuals that make up Team Bootstrap (who weathered not one, but two snow storms this time around!) White outs or not, black gold was delivered to over 1000+ households and businesses. And we recognize that some of you are new and may not be fully in the know on how to use your finished compost, so here’s a quick rundown on how (and why) to put your soil amendment to good use. But first, a little breakdown by neighborhood:

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How much black gold did your neighborhood receive?

Alright, let’s talk compost! Here are seven tips to get you started:

1) Soil loses nutrients through erosion, over-cultivation, and culling of organic matter. Compost infuses nutrients back into soil. But what kind of nutrients?

2) Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the most important elements for healthy plants. Luckily, these macronutrients can be found in abundance in healthy compost, thus serving to revitalize depleted soils and frustrated flora. But what, exactly, DO they DO? In short, this:
Nitrogen is essential for photosynthesis.
Phosphorus helps plants develop new tissue.
Potassium is essential for the movement of water.

3) Compost also helps soil retain moisture. Not sure where to start? If you have any house plants, add a healthy 1/4 – 1/2 inch layer of compost to the base of your plants.

4) If you’re doing any re-potting, be sure to mix compost into your soil. Up to 1/3 of the mixture can be compost, but no more than that! Over-saturation of compost can actually be detrimental to the health of the plant (let’s call it nutrient overload).

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Emma gets compost ready to sift + pack!

5) Compost can benefit all types of soils. Is your soil sandy and loose? Compost will help bind it together, giving your plants more stability. Is your soil more clay-like? Compost will help increase its porosity, giving roots a chance to breathe.

6) You can also use finished compost as a mulch. If you spread it around the base of your outdoor plants, trees, and shrubs, it’ll help shade and protect the underlying soil, as well as increase water retention. Plus, the nutrients will sink into the soil over time!

7) Finally, you can use finished compost to make compost tea, which is a potent, nutrient-dense solution you can spray plants with. How do you make compost tea? Place your compost into a porous fabric bag (burlap or cheesecloth, for example), and steep in water for 24 hours. Use the resulting solution to spray plants, no more than once per week.

There you have it! Do you have any other uses of compost that I forgot? Feel free to post them, as well as questions, comments, concerns, dirty fingernails, etc in the comment section! And find us on Twitter under hashtag #bscgrows for more gardening and composting tips!

Also, 574 degrees Fahrenheit and 574 Kelvin are the same temperature.

The Wicked Green: The Grass Ain’t Always Greener

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

It’s officially fall in New England, and that means it’s time to rake leaves, and rake again, and then rake some more. But wait! Last year, I learned that your lawn can actually benefit greatly from the leaves that fall every year. You can fertilize your grass (for free!) by mulching the leaves and leaving them in place over the winter. In turn, your yard will be supporting a healthier ecosystem, which means you’ll have better soil for trees, shrubs, flowers, and yes, even grass.

Here’s the thing, though. Traditional lawns are a huge resource drain as they mostly sit empty and unused. Instead, homeowners would be wise to plant perennial flowers, shrubs, trees, or even a vegetable garden. Why? Home vegetable gardens can reduce your carbon footprint – up to two pounds of carbon emissions can be prevented for each pound of homegrown vegetables consumed. In Florida, a start-up called Fleet Farming will come help you plant a vegetable garden, help you care for it, and help you harvest it.  In some places, there are financial incentives for ripping out your lawn, and specifically your automatic watering system, where drought is common and water is scarce. In Long Beach, California, residents can apply to receive financial credit to turn their lawn into a landscape that fits Southern California’s semi-arid climate.

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Don’t be this guy.

Ultimately, what you plant and what you grow will depend on where you live. The point is to work with your local ecosystem and not against it. It can be more harmful to plant vegetables at home and not care for them than if you had never planted them in the first place. But if you know what to plant, not only will you be helping the environment, you’ll be helping your stomach and your wallet. Now, isn’t that something to feast on?

Also, there are typically 3 different types of membrane proteins: 1) integral membrane proteins (embedded in the lipid bilayer); 2) lipid-anchored membrane proteins (attach to fatty acids that are attached to the lipid bilayer); and 3) peripheral membrane proteins (bind to integral membrane proteins and never come in contact with the lipid bilayer).

 

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.

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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

By Faith Miller
Operations Manager at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

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: 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.

Client Q&A: Pulp Nonfiction at The Juicery

By Igor Kharitonenkov
Co-Founder at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Each and every week, Bootstrap helps The Juicery keep 550 pounds of beautiful pulp out of landfills, amounting to a whopping 43,450 lbs of food waste composted since October 2014. Our combined effort has created 21,000+ lbs of compost for local use and offset 41,277 lbs of GHGs – the equivalent of planting 239 trees! And, as an added bonus, I get to stop in and treat myself to my favorite smoothie in town, the Kale Storm. On a recent visit to the North End locale, I took time to chat with one-time manager Caitlin Moakley (who has since relocated to another sweet company, Sweetgreen) about our partnership and what it means to have Bootstrap serving the juice bar.

Caitlin Juicery

Ms. Moakley recognizes the value of sustainable business practices, explaining that “aside from serving food to our customers, we also serve them by composting.”

1.) How long has The Juicery been a client of Bootstrap Compost?
The Juicery has been a client of Bootstrap Compost since October of 2014.

2.) How did you hear about us?
I personally heard about Bootstrap through the SBN (Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts), when I was looking for sustainable, mission-focused jobs after college.

3.) Why did The Juicery sign up for Bootstrap?
The Juicery signed up for Bootstrap because it makes perfect sense. As a business, I believe it is our responsibility to provide our customers with excellent service – to me, that means serving them in more ways than one! Aside from serving food to our customers, we also serve them by composting all of our food scraps. Whatever comes from the earth, we want to put back into it, and not into a garbage bag, being of no use to our environment!

“Many employees didn’t understand what composting was before they began working for us – knowledge is for sure one of the bigger benefits!”

4.) What kind of benefits do your employees or your company derive from the service?
I know we gain the personal satisfaction of knowing that we are creating less “trash” on a daily basis. I know all of my employees have taken a second look at what’s in their hands, and where they should “throw it out” before doing so. Having Bootstrap has allowed all of my employees to not only recognize the benefits of composting within the workplace, but also within their own homes. Many employees didn’t understand what composting was before they began working for us – knowledge is for sure one of the bigger benefits!

5.) Are new employees educated on the benefits and the specifics of composting within your company? If so, how?
New employees become familiar with composting right from the start, hired or not! I explain the composting process in interviews to see if potential employees are with it or not. The sustainable side of our business is the most important to me so I hammer this home within our employees. I explain that any waste we accumulate that comes from the earth can go right back into it. I make sure that employees know to never throw any paper towels with sanitizer or cleaning solutions into the compost, as these are chemicals and ultimately, not something you would want to eat! Visuals always seem to work best, by grabbing each piece of waste, whether it be food, compostable utensils, cups, etc. and showing them where to divert their waste.

Ringing in Spring with Compost Week!

After months of collecting and composting food scraps through rain, snow, and sun-deprivation, we were thrilled to announce our spring edition of Compost Week! — our seasonal distribution of finished compost back to the community. Between April 4th and 15th, a six-pound share of our black gold (hand-sifted and mixed) made its way to your stoop, with hopes of boosting the health and yield of your houseplant, raised bed, or garden plot. And modesty be damned, this batch of finished compost is likely our best yet — dark, moist, and fluffy. It’s truly Boot-iful. And we’re hoping your flora feel the same way. So how did we do?

IMG_7397

Largely hidden from public view since 2011, Buckethead reappears to spread soil for the soul.

As we salute our largest Compost Week! effort ever, we take pride in its monumental impact: the distribution of a whopping two and a half tons (5,144 lbs) of compost back to the Greater Boston community (a feat only made possible by the hardworking, hard-core individuals that make up Team Bootstrap). Let’s break it down, town by town…

The fertile soils of Jamaica Plain will rejoice, as our founding neighborhood stayed true to its green roots and pulled in a healthy share of 1,190 lbs of compost. Across the river, the Fluffernutter-loving people of Somerville weren’t far behind, amassing 1,012 lbs of compost. Up third, Cambridge collected 380 lbs of black gold, amounting to a treasure of growing power for The People’s Republic. Capturing fourth and fifth place, respectively, were Brookline with 334 lbs of soil amendment received and Arlington, which took in nearly 200 pounds. The remaining 2,032 pounds were hand delivered across the Hub, from Malden to Quincy, Southie to Wellesley, and everywhere in between. Big shout to each and every one of you making good use of your soil amendment. As a quick tip, remember that a ¼” of compost on top of your soil will help your plants retain moisture and nutrients. If you’re mixing soil and compost, a ratio of 3 parts soil to 1 part compost is ideal. Stay tuned for a series of blog posts and Tweets that will provide additional gardening info and tips.

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Six pounds of black gold spotted in Cambridgeport.

Lastly, we’d like to highlight the gardens and organizations that took part in our donation program, while thanking our residential clients who elected to have their share donated. This year’s crop of donation recipients includes Glen Park Community Garden in East Somerville (which will put 90 pounds of Bootstrap compost to use) and the Cambridge Community Center garden and Malden Community Garden, both of which received 60 pounds. Our donation program is first-come, first-served — so give us a holler if you have any compost needs for your school, community garden, or organization.

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In total, 858 containers of compost were signed, sealed and delivered, courtesy of Jacob & co.

The BiG Stink: The Scoop on Poop, Part 2

By Faith Miller
Operations Manager at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Welcome back to The BiG Stink and thanks for tuning in for Part 2 of the ins and outs of composting scat. Last time I covered the merits of composting cat, dog, rodent, and bird wastes but this week is all about your fellow man. So without further ado, let’s talk about composting human poo.

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The story on humanure? It may kill you or it may bless your garden.

There are two reactions to composting human waste; either you think it’s gross or you think it’s awesome. For those of you on team gross, the ick-factor is warranted. Human feces may contain pathogens such as Hepatitis A, norovirus, E. coli, and roundworms to name a few. Also, food contaminated by night soil (untreated human waste) has led to major public health scares in places such as China, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Since poop can kill, a little fecophobia is justified.

Given that human feces is packed with pathogens and could be deadly, why would one want to compost it? Turns out excrement is chock-full of nutrients plants need including phosphates, potassium, and nitrogen which are the same ingredients in synthetic fertilizers. Americans are flushing 8 million pounds of poop a year, letting a major nutrient source go down the toilet.

composting toilet

An example of a composting toilet

There are in fact people collecting their waste and saving it from a watery grave. Dedicated composters are harnessing the power of their poop using specialty composting toilets or by simply collecting their waste in a bucket. Contents of the bucket are transferred to the compost pile and given a generous dose of sawdust to mask odors. After several months of curing, a humanure pile should test negative for coliform bacteria and be safe for use on edible crops. When the pile reaches high enough temperatures to kill off pathogens, it appears humanure can be perfectly safe.

That’s human waste composting at a small scale. What about large scale composting of poo? Mass quantities of human waste are composted in the form of biosolids. Biosolids are the organic materials resulting from the processing of sewage in a treatment facility. Biosolids are NOT sewage. Sewage is the untreated mush from everything we flush, throw down the kitchen sink, and wash down the bathroom shower. Biosolids are produced from a heavily regulated process overseen by the EPA and can be applied to crops. In fact, nearly 50% of biosolids produced in the U.S. are returned to farmland.

While a significant portion of human waste is being recovered for fertilizer, many people are concerned that the heavy metals, steroids, and pharmaceuticals found in human waste will make their way into soils and crops.  However, regular testing has found that soils treated with biosolids have heavy metal concentrations significantly below the maximum permissible levels. When tested, biosolids are found to have the same concentrations of pharmaceuticals and steroids as water, soil and human bodies. Which begs the question- if these contaminants already are in the environment, does it matter if they’re in biosolids?

That’s the story on humanure. It may kill you or it may bless your garden. As long as the pile reaches high temperatures and is allowed to cure, pathogens shouldn’t be an issue for home composters (or they can invest in a $960.00 composting toilet). As for biosolids, they contain no more heavy metals or pharmaceuticals than the background environment. My take? Excrement is complicated and one should take it seriously. Tackle the turds at your own risk.