After ordering a coffee a few months ago, back when that was a normal thing to do, one of Bullfrog’s employees was pleasantly surprised that it came in a 100%-compostable cup. But her joy was short lived—there were no compost bins to be seen. Our team doesn’t shy away from a sustainability challenge, so she held on to the cup while she hunted for a place to compost it.
She spotted a soap refill shop and thought that a business dedicated to reducing plastic usage might also compost. She was right about that, but she was wrong about the cup’s decomposition destiny.
“I know it says ‘compostable,’ but that has to go to landfill,” the shopkeeper said. He pulled up his TOwaste app, and sure enough: compostable coffee cups belong in the garbage can.
Why couldn’t we put a compostable item in the Green Bin? And when we think we’re composting, how much of what we throw away is destined for landfill?
Luckily, we know a composting expert. At the Bullfrog Power main office, we send our organics to Wastenot Farms to become worm food (and subsequently fertilizer). Jocelyn Molyneux, the farm’s Owner and Operator, taught us the ins and outs of industrial versus worm composting.
Jocelyn has always been obsessed with trash (her words, not ours). But when she got her first job at a waste treatment plant, she was shocked at how little was recycled or composted—nearly everything that passed through the plant was sent to landfill.
The landfill’s lament
When organic waste is sent to landfill it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that’s about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. The nutrients from the waste will also be lost instead of returning to the soil in the form of compost.
Not only is Ontario ‘wasting’ a lot of its organic waste, the province ships tonnes of it to the United States. Jocelyn explained that it’s much cheaper to export it to a landfill south of the border than it is to compost it here. But the way Jocelyn sees this practice, we’re paying another country to take away our valuable agricultural resources. And without this natural compost to help fertilize our soil, we’ll resort more and more to chemical fertilizers.
Even when our waste is successfully composted, things may not be as green as we imagine. “Industrial composting is lame,” Jocelyn said. “It has to be done on a massive scale, it requires high heat, and it creates relatively poor fertilizer.”
The early bullfrog gets the worm
Worm composting, on the other hand, can be done in small batches and is suitable for urban farms, offices (like ours!) or even individual homes. When organic waste can be processed close to home, fewer transport-related emissions will be produced. Jocelyn goes one step further and picks up her clients’ waste in a bullfrogpowered electric vehicle.
Worm composting is efficient and easy. Ten pounds of worms can consume ten pounds of food waste every day, which produces a pound of high-quality biofertilizer.
The process is also highly scalable, as the worm population doubles every sixty days. Jocelyn calls her worms an example of innovative biotech—it’s often our first impulse to discount natural solutions, but these simple organisms are more effective than our current waste management systems.
Worms vs. climate change
The beauty of composting is that it treats our food scraps as a valuable resource that should be used to help the next crop of food grow. It’s a zero-waste, closed-loop system. Jocelyn also sees worm composting as an important way to fight climate change.
Most of us remember learning about the carbon cycle in elementary school: plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, combine it with water, and create sugars and oxygen. When plants decompose or when animals eat them, the process reverses and the carbon in those sugars makes its way back into the atmosphere.
With all the focus on the carbon in the atmosphere, it’s easy to forget that an important part of the carbon cycle occurs below ground. In fact, soil stores more carbon than Earth’s plants and atmosphere put together.
So much carbon ends up in the soil thanks to a symbiotic relationship between plants and microbes. Jocelyn explained that microbes help plants by transporting water and nutrients to their roots. The microbes also produce fungicides and growth hormones that help plants stay healthy.
In return, plants draw carbon from the air and send it down into the soil to feed the microbes. When the microbe population is flourishing, more carbon is sequestered in the soil.
So what does this have to do with composting, you ask?
When chemical fertilizers are used instead of compost, many of the microbes in the soil are killed off. Without those microbes to feed, plants will sequester less carbon. Plants are powerful tools in the fight against climate change, but they need microbes to reach their full potential.
Unlike chemical fertilizers, high-quality, natural compost can help support microbes and plants as they do the dirty work of removing carbon from the atmosphere.
What can’t worms do?
The worms at Wastenot Farms can make quick work of just about anything organic, including bones, wooden utensils, and compostable packaging like the ill-fated coffee cup that couldn’t be composted by the city.
Once the worms eat the organic waste and produce you-know-what, Jocelyn gives her customers the option to take back the fertilizer or donate it to a community garden. Her philosophy is that farms feed cities, so cities should feed farms!
Being environmentally conscious can be a struggle. Many of us worry about whether our recycling is actually going to landfill, or if the eco-friendly products we buy are as green as they seem. At Bullfrog, it’s a load off our minds to know that the organic waste we produce when we’re in the office will soon help more food grow in farms and gardens in our community.
Wastenot Farms serves houses and high-rises in the GTA—they’ll pick up your food waste and drop off the resulting biofertilizer. Check out their website to get the dirt on composting.