Tossing Out Food In The Trash? In Seattle, You'll Be Fined For That

Seattle is the first city in the nation to fine people for not properly sorting their garbage. The law took effect on Jan. 1 as a bid to keep food out of landfills and encourage composting instead.

Seattle Public Utilities estimates that every family in the city throws away some 400 pounds of food each year. And so the new law aims to incentivize recycling and composting. For now households that throw away food are warned with a bright red tag on their garbage bin – but fines will be imposed come Jul. 1. 


The Water-Purifying Storm Drain

Some trees in the municipality have come down, which means free wood chip mulch! I am glad to finally start covering up the newspaper mulch layer around the swale.

I have been picking up urban concrete waste, rocks, shells, and ceramic waste, in order to make a drainage layer in the water reservior. It’s all coming together in bits and pieces of recycled materials. As with the clay extraction project: a little bit of collection and recycling each day adds up to a lot of raw materials.

This water-collecting and filtering project has been a few months in the making: building a wood hügel, digging a swale, planting an edible tree and shrub border, planting pollinator-feeding erosion control seed mix on the berm, and planting semi-aquatic irises that filter water and hyperaccumulate pollutants like heavy metals

Once finished, this crescent-shaped drain should relieve flooded conditions on the grass plane and patio, while providing a space for the disposal of local concrete waste and broken ceramics.

In a few years, it can be mulched over and turned into a rain garden.

I based the idea on things I read while learning about landscape stormwater management, phytoremediation and phytomining: I wanted to use largely botanical, recycled, or self-harvested components to build a drain that also functions as a place to process waste, and as a habitat and source of sustenance to local wildlife. It’s modelled on a bioretention water processing/groundwater recharge cell.


A number of the drainage elements – especially shells and concrete – are also meant to catch small amounts of water, in order to provide drinking water for the beehive I am currently installing.

Seeds are germinating on the berm, so soon the whole thing will be covered in flowers, and yet again virtually unrecognisable!

The whole project has been free of cost, and made with recycled, collected, or traded materials.

Two Years of Mining Black Gold

Or how I ran out of garbage when I learned to love compost

Here in the Nordic Countries, there is a huge emphasis on recycling and generating sustainable energy, especially with waste. Neighbouring Sweden recycles 99% of it’s garbage, Norway imports UK garbage for incineration, and here in Denmark, I live on a large human-engineered stormwater-filtering wetland, which leads to a biogas fermentation complex, attached to a wind farm. Since it is so difficult to store wind power, Danish utilities sometimes even have to pay other EU nations to take excess energy.

As the sciences that deal with energy and waste both develop, they become more integrated, which makes the whole process more efficient. My local area is a good example of that.

I’ve taken these lessons in waste and energy from both engineering and ecology, and applied them to how I manage my food forest space: only to find that I needed more biological waste than four people could generate in order to build and sustain my system. Waste is, in some sense, a scarce resource.

My composting system: food waste goes in the sealed composters, and yard waste is turned between the two larger units over the course of a season. Only one of the composters is close to being full, as the biomass compresses considerably when water drains.

I integrate household waste directly into the construction of many spaces in my garden: newspaper and cardboard are vital resources for sheet mulching, whereas woody yard waste is essential for hügelkultur and “chop and drop” or chip mulches. Many of my projects move at an artificially slow pace, precisely because our consumption does not equal my rate of construction.

These composters were each filled with 1.5m³ of composted grass clippings, collected over 15 years. Three years after moving in, and I have emptied 15 years worth of compost.

I have had to integrate the production of biomass and green manure crops, and regenerative practices like coppicing and pollarding into my repertoire in order to generate the biological waste I need to provide my food forest crops with adequate nutrition and soil integrity, without the use of synthesised chemical inputs.

I could start turning the waste of all of my immediate neighbours into a resource as well, or working with pee-cycling and humanure, if such things were not legal and regulatory minefields. There are a number of simpler energy-generating compost systems I would like to try, like home biogas fermentation, or even just a simple biomeiler, but If I were to work with those systems, I would need to be producing more garbage! 

Ideally, I would like to create a test site here where almost 90+% of day-to-day waste is managed in-house, and this goal becomes more realistic the more food and biomass resources I am able to extract from this small patch of land. In a well-designed system, cycles of production and waste can be cyclical, instead of linear.

Worm Towers

Like keyhole gardening, lasagna gardening, hügelkultur, or sheet mulching, worm towers are a way to integrate composting directly in to your growing space, creating an environment that is rich in nutrients and beneficial microorganisms, as well as a habitat is welcoming to soil-enriching and -tilling worms.

Diagram: Ecofilms Australia

The towers can be made of almost any durable material, and should basically consist of a half-buried tube or bucket, with holes large enough so worms can enter and exit. 

I built my worm towers with leftover plastic piping and a handheld drill.

When not adding compost, it is best to cover the top of the tower with an inverted pot or lid, to discourage rodents or birds from digging in it.

Compost is added from the top, and the worms break it down and carry it out through the holes and/or open bottom, leaving rich casings from which the neighbouring plants to derive nutrition.

These towers can be moved around, and waste inputs can be tailored to the soil needs. More hazardous inputs like pet waste can be safely composted in a worm tower in areas where long-term crops like trees are growing.

Related: Beneficial Insect Habitats; Insect Hotels; Natural Insect Habitats; Creating Insect Habitats

#garden hacks #DIY #permaculture #compost #vermicomposting #worms


Everything You Know About Composting is Wrong: Mike McGrath at TEDxPhoenixville