Soil Composting – Sustainable Means Local


Compost Bin

What does it take to build your own rich, organic soil and do it sustainably?

Many of you have heard of composting or may even have a bin out in the garden. But, is this system meeting your needs or do you find yourself making runs to the local garden store for a few bags of soil? Chances are that these bags came from many hundreds of miles away. A more sustainable system would be to make use of a local composting facility. That is, if there is one near you.

If you live in or near Sonoma, than consider yourself lucky. Sonoma Compost operates the Organic Recycling Program on behalf of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency. They accept yard trimmings and vegetative food discards that are placed in curbside containers by local residents. Yard trimmings are also delivered directly to their site by landscapers, tree trimmers and the public.

Sonoma Compost’s program has already reduced 1,200,000 tons of yard and wood debris, then converted it into organic compost, mulch, recycled lumber, firewood and bio-fuel.Compost Bins

If you don’t have a composting facility in your area, here’s what can individuals do to produce sustainable, organic soil in their backyards or community gardens.

Backyard Compost Bins: Composting is nature’s own way of recycling and helps to keep the high volume of organic material out of landfills and turns it into a useful product. On-site composting reduces the cost of hauling materials and is generally exempted from solid waste regulations. Large scale facilities can handle more material and potentially produce a more consistent product.

Bokashi: This system relies on fermentation to decompose the matter rather than putrefaction, so no offensive odor is produced. In about 10 days, you can bury the nutrient-rich matter in the garden or empty the Bokashi kitchen compost bucket into your compost pile to help improve physical, chemical and biological environments in the soil.

Worm Bins: Vermiculture, or worm composting, allows you to compost your food waste rapidly, while producing high quality compost and fertilizing liquid. Best of all, it’s self-contained and nearly odorless.

The concept of a city run composting facility may not seem sustainable; especially if you consider that trucks burn fossil fuel to haul their loads through neighborhoods, causing air pollution, traffic and more wear and tear on the roads. Then, individuals make separate trips from the suburbs to the local composting center transporting soil back to their homes. The inefficiency of this system is obvious but, may be a means to an end.

I believe that the benefits to having a city-run composing program would outweigh the downside of having none at all. Once a program is up and running, people can utilize the service to enrich their backyard gardens, urban farmers would benefit greatly and there’s the benefit of a reduction in the volume of organic waste going to the landfill.

The following improvements could make this centralized composting system more sustainable:

1. Upgrade the trucks to bio-diesel or other renewables,
2. Encourage community involvement in home composting systems,
3. Run composting workshops,
4. Work with local entrepreneurs to start small, community-based composting stations in their neighborhoods.

To some, it might not seem that difficult to divert your organic waste to a compost bucket to your backyard, but many perceive it to be too time-consuming. There’s also a cultural barrier connected with the formation of soil: some perceive it to be dirty and smelly. Strangely though, many people also view composting as a socially-responsible effort rather than a common sense one, since they do not use the resulting soil in a garden.

With a little effort and a change in behavior, you could be producing many cubic feet of rich, organic compost in your very back yard. The qualitative benefits include a more abundant and productive garden for you and your family. This equates to better health and nutrition. Quantitatively, you are helping to divert from landfill, more than 25 percent your household’s waste and food scraps. In 1996, The Composting Council analyzed backyard composting programs and concluded that the average household in the study composted an average of 646 pounds per year, which amounted to more than 12 pounds every week.

Your family, your community and your tomatoes will thank you for it.

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Is $4 Per Gallon Gas Here To Stay?


One link swept past my Twitter account recently, “What High Gas Prices Mean for Renewable Energy“. After reading, I got to thinking about why this latest spike in gasoline prices at the pump feels different.

As Christopher Steiner states in his book, $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, we, as a society will adapt to this inevitable rise in the price of gas with modifications in our behavior and technological innovations. It won’t be all doom and gloom as some predict. Mostly, the change will benefit us in the long run.

So, what is different this time around? Have we adapted to the recent spikes in gas prices or are we changing our belief system of our vision for an oil-dependent world?

Some adapt by buying a hybrid, like a Prius, to take the sting out of higher prices at the pump. Recently, in Mill Valley, California I saw a staggering 5 Priuses (Prii?) converging into one intersection!

For most of the population, buying a new, high-priced hybrid is out of reach. Americans are keeping their old cars running longer and holding off on new car purchases. This trend puts downward pressure on gas efficiency in the aggregate as older cars stay on the roads longer.

American’s Adapt By Driving Less – A Lot Less

The result of multiple factors such as the slow economy, unemployment and increased telecommuting mean that we are driving far less than anyone had predicted.

In January, 2011, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drove a collective 222 billion miles or 727 miles traveled for every man, woman, and child in the country. But, in 2008, Americans averaged 757 miles per person.

We are seeing a steady decline in how much people are driving. January 2009 marked the fifteenth consecutive month in which the average American drove less than they had a year earlier.

Much of this trend in lower miles driven is due to the recession, lowered economic activity and high unemployment. But, the question of whether this trend will continue when the economy recovers still remains.

Will This Trend Continue?

There’s reason to believe that the average American will continue to drive less than they have historically (Paul Volcker, among others, endorses this idea.)

Have we adapted our lifestyle initially to save money, only to realize that we are happier spending less time in our cars? There could be many reasons contributing to our decreased time behind the wheel including more people telecommuting for one.

Whatever the reasons, the net effect points to our ability to adapt our lifestyles to meet changing societal conditions. This ability bodes well for us as the price of oil is sure to rise (as predicted by Steiner, et al).

Ways To Decrease Gas Usage and Save Money

  • Check your tire air pressure weekly and keep at recommended levels
  • Plan your errands before you leave the house. Combine together and make a loop for efficiency
  • Drive more efficiently by employing Hypermiling techniques, i.e. avoid fast breaking and accelerating
  • Turn off air conditioning when possible
  • Reduce weight by taking unnecessary items out of your car
  • Leave early – this gives you more time so you can drive slower and more efficiently
  • Begin carpooling or join a ride-share
  • Bike instead of drive to get where you’re going

This is only a short list of ways to save on your gas bill. Buying a more fuel efficient automobile is obviously a great idea if you have the funds. Some people make life changing decisions like moving closer to their work or vice versa.

If the average miles driven per person/per week is 240, at $4.00 per gallon, getting 30 miles to the gallon, the average amount spent on gas would be $96/month. If you have more than one driver in your household, get worse gas mileage or drive more than the average, your bill could be much higher. Now imagine gas at $6, $8 or even $12 a gallon! Think of how your driving habits might shift or change completely.

Gas prices are thought by many experts to be going higher in the near future. Based on my findings, I agree. Employing these tips can save you significant cash over the course of the year, while improving the environment.

Bicycles Make Sustainable Sense


From the early part of the 19th Century, people have made peddling as a means to getting around, a national pastime. And it’s easy to see why.

What makes bicycles so wildly popular, besides how fun they are to ride, is their phenomenal efficiency both in biological and mechanical terms. The bicycle is the most efficient self-powered means of transportation in terms of energy a person must expend to travel a given distance. From a mechanical viewpoint, up to 99% of the energy delivered by the rider into the pedals is transmitted to the wheels and is also an efficient means of cargo transportation.

Not only that but, the carbon dioxide generated in the production and transportation of the food required by the bicyclist, per mile traveled, is less than 1/10 that generated by energy efficient cars.

Bicycles now number about one billion worldwide, twice as many as automobiles.

So, why do our U.S. cities still favor cars over bikes? The short answer is – we are addicted to our cars.

In a country famous for its love of cars and driving, less than 1% of personal trips are by bike compared with up to 30% in some parts of Europe.

And cars driven in America’s cities account for the majority of pollution and energy usage related to transportation. According to the IEA, cities currently occupy just 2 % of the world’s surface but account for half the global population, two-thirds of energy use and 76 % of energy-related CO2 output.

The environmental impact of cities stems both from their concentration of human activity but also their reliance on outside regions to meet their demand for energy and resources, and to accommodate their waste output.

Now, here’s the good news. In the transportation sector, denser cohabitation means shorter journeys to work and amenities, encouraging walking and cycling. Let’s look at the benefits to more bikes and less cars on our roads.


Benefits to Choosing Bikes Over Cars

  • Improve the environment by reducing the impact on residents of pollution and noise, limiting greenhouse gases, and improving the quality of public spaces.
  • Reduce congestion by shifting short trips (the majority of trips in cities) out of cars. This will also make cities more accessible for public transportation, walking, essential car travel, emergency services, and deliveries.
  • Save lives by creating safer conditions for bicyclists and as a direct consequence improve the safety of all other road users. Research shows that increasing the number of bicyclists on the street improves bicycle safety.
  • Increase opportunities for residents of all ages to participate socially and economically in the community, regardless income or ability. Greater choice of travel modes also increases independence, especially among seniors and children.
  • Boost the economy by creating a community that is an attractive destination for new residents, tourists and businesses.
  • Enhance recreational opportunities, especially for children, and further contribute to the quality of life in the community.
  • Save city funds by increasing the efficient use of public space, reducing the need for costly new road infrastructure, preventing crashes, improving the health of the community, and increasing the use of public transportation.
  • Enhance public safety and security by increasing the number of “eyes on the street” and providing more options for movement in the event of emergencies, natural disasters, and major public events.
  • Improve the health and well being of the population by promoting routine physical activity.

Rates of bike use in some U.S. cities are significantly higher thanks to recognition by urban planners of the environmental, economic and health benefits.

In Portland for example, 5.4% of people said in a 2006 survey that the bicycle was their primary means of getting to work.

“In the last three years, we reached another acceleration point,” said Scott Bricker, executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, an advocacy group. “Ridership is increasing exponentially.”

Historically, bicycles reduced crowding in inner-city tenements by allowing workers to commute from more spacious dwellings in the suburbs. They also reduced dependence on horses. Bicycles allowed people to travel for leisure into the country, since bicycles were three times as energy efficient as walking and three to four times as fast.


What Cities Are Doing To Promote Bicycle Use

Recently, several European cities and Montreal have implemented successful schemes known as community bicycle programs or bike-sharing. These initiatives complement a city’s public transportation system and offer an alternative to motorized traffic to help reduce congestion and pollution. In Europe, especially in The Netherlands and parts of Germany and Denmark, commuting by bicycle is very common. In the Danish capital of Copenhagen, a cyclists’ organization runs a Cycling Embassy, that promotes biking for commuting and sightseeing. In the UK there’s a tax break scheme that allows employees to buy a new bicycle tax free to use for commuting.


Portland, Chicago and Washington Take The Lead

The relative popularity of bicycling in Portland may be linked to bike lanes, locking facilities and programs that encourage public bicycling and safety education for children.

Portland has 171 miles of bike lanes along its 2,568 miles of roadways and plans to increase that to 434 miles. Portland has 71 miles of bike trails and a third of its arterial roads have bike lanes or paved shoulders.This network includes 114 miles of “bicycle boulevards” — quiet streets where bikes have priority over cars and where traffic speed is restricted.

In Chicago, pro-bike policies have resulted in 115 miles of bike lanes, more than 11,000 bike racks and 50 miles of dedicated bike paths along Lake Michigan.

Around 1.5 % of personal trips in Chicago are made by bike and the city aims to boost that to 5 % by 2015.

Graph showing Daily Trip Distances

In Washington, the proportion of people biking to work rose from 1.2 percent in 2000 to an estimated 2 percent in 2006, said Jim Sebastian, who heads the U.S. capital’s bicycle and pedestrian program.

Bike lanes in Washington now stretch to 33 miles — 11 times longer than in 2001 — and more than half of the city’s subway stops now have bike racks.

Later this summer, Washington plans to launch the first U.S. bike-sharing program in which users will pay $40 a year for a swipe card enabling them to pick up a bike from racks around the city and then return them to any other rack.

In cities where the bicycle is not an integral part of the planned transportation system, commuters often use bicycles as elements of a mixed-mode commute, where the bike is used to travel to and from train stations or other forms of rapid transit. Folding bicycles are useful in these scenarios, as they are less cumbersome when carried aboard. Los Angeles removed a small amount of seating on some trains to make more room for bicycles and wheel chairs.

Bicycles offer an important mode of transportation in many developing countries. Until recently, bicycles have been a staple of everyday life throughout Asian countries. They are the most frequently used method of transportation for commuting to work, school, shopping, and life in general.

Biking More Reduces Our Dependence Upon Foreign Oil

One of the profound economic implications of bicycle use is that it liberates the user from oil consumption (Ballantine, 1972). The bicycle is an inexpensive, fast, healthy and environmentally friendly mode of transportation (Illich, 1974).

Now, more than ever, we need to be peddling more and driving less. The price at the pump is one great motivator. Statistically, about 40 percent of all trips are shorter than two miles-a 30-minute walk or a 10-minute bike ride (1995 NPTS). So why choose the car when the bike will be more fun and improve your health?

Imagine that gasoline costs $5, $6, even $10 per gallon. How will you get to work, school, the grocery store? Chances are that you’ll modify your commute patterns when it costs you $40 in gas just to get to work and back. These days are not far off and bicycling gives us an inexpensive, highly efficient means of transportation that is truly sustainable.

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