A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 March 7, 1991


For the last five years Zurich has financed a community composting office to distribute information to apartment dwellers on why and how to become involved in composting food wastes. Currently there are 482 community compost projects operating. Two-thirds of the 482 compost projects serve between 3 and 30 households with the rest serving up to 200 households. In a VideoActive interview, filmed 2-13-91, between Thomas Waldmeir, who heads up Zurich’s Community Compost Program, and Paul Connett, Waldmeir provided the following information:

How to build an interest group within your housing complex. Waldmeir suggests that if a household is interested in the project that the best way to get started is to start talking to your neighbors. If other residents are interested the next step is to get approval from the owner of the housing complex. Once that is done, Waldmeir’s group will come and give a talk to all the residents to explain and advise on the following:

How to find a place to compost. Waldmeir’s group will advise the residents on how to select the best place for their compost center. A large space is not needed. An 8’ by 10’ space will do nicely.

Materials they will need. Waldmeir’s group supplies wood chips which are added daily to help aerate the compost pile. But residents are encouraged to collect their own wood chips (small twigs etc.) from their own area.

How to collect compost in the household. Special containers for kitchen scraps can be purchased but at one community compost center filmed by VideoActive, a woman entered the compost site with two waxed milk containers filled with her kitchen scraps. She emptied out the contents neatly on the pile, then left with her waxed-milk containers. Her reaction to the compost center was very supportive and enthusiastic.

What materials to collect for composting. Waldmeir explained that all kitchen waste, house plants, flowers, anything from the garden, and kitty litter were acceptable. Residents are advised not to put paper or disposable diapers into the compost pile.

How to work the compost. Waldmeir estimated it would take a total of two and a half hours per month to tend the compost properly. The chores are shared by the members of the participating households. For a compost for 50 households, he estimated that 5-10 people per month would be needed. VideoActive filmed a compost center which served approx 30 people. There were four ‘piles’. The first pile accepts the organics on a daily basis. This was s simple screened (chicken wire) enclosure. The material will sit in that enclosure for two weeks. The second pile accepts the material from the screened enclosure every two weeks, with thorough mixing with each addition. After two months this pile is shifted to a third pile. The third pile of material is ready for use after a period of another 2 months. The fourth pile is a “holding” pile of ready-to-use compost. There were a few rules Waldmeir stressed for successful community projects: The first was that someone had to oversee the compost on a daily basis and add wood chips to aerate the pile. The second was that if the compost center was kept clean and tidy it would not smell. The compost piles were covered to protect them from rain and snow. When the cover of the second pile was lifted steam wafted out -a visible sign of an “active” compost.

What to do with the composted material. It is used for window-boxes and the gardens surrounding the housing complex. The compost center that VideoActive filmed had a park next to it. It was pointed out that the majority of the compost material at this site was used by the schoolchildren for their gardens.

The role of the residents. They get advice and information from Waldmeir's group, but the residents run the compost operation. Compost chores are shared, with someone different in charge on a weekly basis. The name and telephone number of the individual in charge for the week is posted on the compost gate.

What is the best thing about the community compost programs. Waldmeir replied that it was the “social implications”! In big cities where “anonymity” can separate people, composting brings them together. It’s “their compost” and they take pride in running it. It also gives people, especially children, a further appreciation of the ecological cycle.

What is the worst thing about the program. According to Waldmeir, there are not enough compost plots yet! He hopes to have 300-400 more programs underway by the end of 1991.

Roger Bailey of VideoActive Productions is in the process of editing this video. Community composting is an idea whose time has come: it’s elegant, simple, successful, and replicable. Waste Not will give you the details for ordering the video when it is available.

Worldwatch Paper 101
$4 From Worldwatch Institute, 1771 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036-1904

This excellent 45-page monograph, written by John E. Young, is a must for anyone involved in the waste battles. With so many regulators preoccupied with the “back end” of the waste problem, it is a timely reminder both from the local and the global point of view, we would be better served by shifting our major effort to the “front end”. In short, we are dealing with a resource management crisis not a waste management crisis. “Increasing the cost of raw materials is an essential first step toward improving the efficiency of materials use and reducing waste. Virgin materials are now artificially cheap, in relation both to secondary materials and to other factors of production. Prices that accounted for the real costs of using materials would be the single most effective incentive for source reduction, reuse, and recycling. Governments’ first task is to eliminate the wide variety of subsidies for virgin production. In mining, depletion allowances are the most explicit subsidies: the United States grants massive tax exemptions to the mining industry, theoretically to compensate for the depletion of mineral reserves. The allowances, usually set between 7 and 22 percent of gross annual income, are not available to those who produce the same materials from recycled goods. Many governments also give large subsidies to logging, artificially reducing the price of virgin paper and other wood products. For instance, in 1989, U.S. timber on public lands was sold to private firms at prices so low that sales revenues failed to cover government costs in 102 of the 120 national forests. Archaic laws that make public mineral or timber resources available at low or no cost to multinational corporations also underwrite virgin materials extraction and environmental destruction. A particularly egregious example is the U.S. General Mining Act of 1872, which allows anyone who finds metallic minerals in public territory to buy the land for $12 per hectare or less, and does not require the miner to pay the government anything for the minerals extracted. The U.S. Treasury received nothing for the $4 billion worth of hard-rock minerals (such as gold, silver, lead, iron and copper) taken from former federal lands in 1988. Weak or nonexistent regulation of the environmental effects of natural resource exploitation allows industries to reap profits while nature and future generations pick up the tab. Mining rules are notably lax in most nations, and logging firms are also rarely forced to repair or mitigate the environmental damage they cause..In the long run, more efficient use of materials could virtually eliminate incineration of garbage and dramatically reduce dependence on landfills. It could also substantially lower energy needs, which would help slow global warming, the most ominous of all environmental threats. Taken together, source reduction, reuse, and recycling - the elements of a soft materials path - can not only cut waste but also foster more flexible, resilient, diverse, self-reliant, and sustainable economies....Finally, the soft materials path offers societies the chance to solve garbage problems without creating new ecological risks. It moves us toward the ultimate goal of providing, in the words of E.F. Schumacher, “the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption.” -- It costs $25 to join the Worldwatch Institute and get these monographs on a regular basis. This has to be the best investment in environmental literature available.

WASTE NOT # 141 A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year. Annual rates are: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Students & Seniors $35; Individual $40; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian Subscriptions $US45. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.