Edmontonians are spoiled when it comes to our trash: the city has been a global leader in waste management for well over two decades, with a robust and technologically advanced system. Yet there’s still a major step that few Edmontonians have taken, which diverts a significant chunk of household waste away from the landfill—and enriches the environment to boot.
“Composting and grass cycling are the best ways to reduce waste—which is why you’re calling me and not the parks department or a horticultural person,” says Mark Stumpf-Allen. He’s the Composting Programs Coordinator for the City of Edmonton, though a number of residents know him as the guy who picks up when you dial the compost hotline.
Yes, that’s right: we’ve got a compost hotline. Stumpf-Allen takes about 20 calls per month from the line, which is forwarded directly to his cellphone. Much more than that, however, he’s responsible for overseeing the city’s various efforts in promoting composting as an easy and valuable endeavour and educating people how to do it properly.
“Edmonton’s waste system is so easy that people don’t really think about the impact in that way, of throwing their garbage away,” Stumpf-Allen explains. “Most people know that Edmonton composts garbage and is very proud of that—and of course we are—but still there’s those few negative things that we don’t like to talk about so much. [Composting] reduces a lot of the very heavy wet waste that is just expensive to drive around town and drive out to our [municipal] composter, and also very energy-intensive to process. Composting reduces a lot of waste and all of the greenhouse gases associated with transporting and processing.”
The secondary benefit of composing is the one that most people would ascribe as its primary purpose: it enriches the soil. Gardeners have long known this, and indeed Stumpf-Allen acknowledges that most of the people he speaks to are doing it for their gardens. But he also urges that composting’s purpose as a waste-reduction tool should be everyone’s main reason for doing it, and therefore it’s something you should do regardless of whether you have a garden or even a yard.
Compost is, admittedly, not a particularly glamorous subject, and one that carries a pretty significant stigma: most assume it’s dirty, stinky and generally icky—and therefore only something for the hardcore gardeners or overly eco-conscious. But if your compost system falls into any of those categories—dirty, stinky or icky—you’re doing it wrong. The good news is that the city’s got your back.
“We want everyone to find the compost system that’s right for them, so we encourage everyone to come out to Compost ‘S cool, learn the basics of greens, browns, water and air, and try some of the tools,” Stumpf-Allen says. Located beside the John Janzen Nature Centre, Compost ‘S cool is a public outreach program that has a number of different compost systems on display, from classic piles to quirky tumblers to vermicomposting (worm) systems and bokashi. (The latter isn’t technically composting but rather a form of anaerobic fermentation that can break down almost any kitchen waste—even meat and dairy products that don’t work in conventional compost systems.) Stumpf-Allen is confident that there’s a compost system out there for everyone, including apartment- and condo-dwellers.
You can visit Compost ‘S cool any time of year; the compost systems remain on display year-round and there are description panels beside each. It’s also staffed in the summer months; August 29 and 30 are the last days that someone will be on hand to guide you through it, though someone will also be there on September 27 for the centre’s free admission day. The city is also hosting composting workshops at the end of September (register on eReg.edmonton.ca).
The City of Edmonton website is a great resource to get you started, as it has detailed instructions, blueprints for do-it-yourself compost systems, links to their workshops and Facebook group, and plenty of other useful resources. The city also sells a compost system (the Earth Machine) at cost for $35, available at the John Janzen Nature Centre gift shop year-round, if you want to get started quickly and easily. If you really want to step up your compost game, you can apply for the city’s Master Composter program, which takes place each year in March and April (the deadline to apply is in February).
And if all that sounds daunting, just give Stumpf-Allen a call—he recommends everyone get in touch with him anyway when they’re getting started. His team is even able to make house calls if you’ve run into a major composting problem.
As the colder weather approaches, composting isn’t likely at the forefront of most people’s minds. But all that waste you produce in the winter has to go somewhere, and composting can—and should—be done year round, outside and inside.
Edmonton Compost Hotline