The soil under our feet is 'an ecosystem unto itself,' and yet, as Soil Scientist and UC Berkeley professor, Step hen Andrews exclaims, we continue to "...treat [it] like dirt!" Quick fixes lead to the overuse of synthetic fertilizers, heavy equipment and careless feet destroy soil structure that took thousands of years to create. But there is something we can do, to renew our soil. This school year, irecycle@school Ed Center staff members got their hands dirty by spreading the word about compost with Davis St Transfer Station Earth Day worm investigations, maintaining and harvesting a worm bench, and learning even more about compost's benefits through a Compost EarthCare Workshop at the Redwood Landfill Commercial Compost Facility in Novato.
Compost is a nutrient-rich material that is added to the soil to make it healthy. Moreover, it releases those nutrients slowly over time so that baby plants are not over-nourished. The Worm Investigation Booth at Earth Day event that I led in Aprilgave children and their guardians the chance to explore our Ed Center worm bin and to feed the worms with 'vegan' options like eggshells, tea bags, fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds and filters. After learning about decomposers, each child took action by spreading a scoopful of compost in our Bay-Friendly Garden as a non-toxic alternative to improving soil health and structure. In May, Ed Center staff also harvested worm castings from the worm bench. The harvest was plentiful and we spread the vermicompost slurry throughout our bay-friendly garden. These events gave many a chance, including myself, to become re-introduced to the wonderful world of worms and to appreciate the work that they do.
We know that other organics like meat, bones, eggshells, greasy paper, and dairy can be put in the green bin. What about biodegradable products and pet waste?
At the Ed Centers, we've added a new image for our Rot quiz to explain pet waste. It turns out the feces of our herbivorous friends like rabbits, hamsters, and birds are fine, but those of dogs and cats contain disease-causing pathogens. So, keepyour doggy bags and kitty litter away from the green can and the sewage system. Biodegradable products such as starch-based utensils, compost bags, and bioplastic cups are alternatives to oil-based products; however, they do not readily break down during commercial scale composting. Commercial compost facilities do not facilitate the break down of such products because they require high heat for longer periods of time. At the Redwood Compost Facility in Marin County, they monitor and turn the wind rows for 30 days in 130 degrees F before sifting out the finished product. They are still there, intact, when the yard debris and food scraps have turned into finished compost. With so many decisions about what to buy or use, and how to dispose of it, things can get very confusing. Bio-plastic products (#7) will contaminate the recycling process for other rigid plastics.
Just like planting seeds in hard soil can be difficult, efforts to introduce adults to new ideas and change behaviors and attitudes can prove fruitless. So, why not add a little compost? By educating the youth and transforming them into 4R's experts, they become the teachers at home. That way, slowly and gradually, generations past, present, and future, may learn to value and respect our resources, especially our soil.