Dear EarthTalk: My husband and I want to start a garden this year. I really want to make compost from leftover food scraps and yard materials. He says it will attract unwanted animals, and refuses to agree to it. Is he right? If so, how do we deal with that issue in a green-friendly, non-lethal way? — Carmen Veurink, Grand Rapids, MI
It’s true that outdoor compost piles and bins can be a draw for wildlife—be it bears, rats, raccoons, skunks, opossums or some other creatures of the night—but there are ways to minimize the attraction. For one, make sure everyone in your household knows to keep meat, bones, fish, fat and dairy out of the compost. Not only will these items “overheat” the compost pile, they’ll also stink it up and attract animals.
Otherwise, home composters should keep in mind that critters aren’t actually eating the compost but are sifting through it to find fresh edible kitchen or garden scraps. To discourage animals, the website OrganicGardening.com recommends mixing kitchen garbage with soil or wood ashes before burying it in the hot center of your compost pile.
Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends not putting any food scraps in open compost piles, but says that if you must, bury them under at least eight inches of soil and then place a wire mesh barrier over the top held in place with a heavy object or two.
Putting your compost pile in a pest-proof container is another way to prevent tampering with your precious organic soil-to-be. Compost tumblers are popular because they mix and aerate by just being turned occasionally, and they keep raccoons, rats, dogs and other interlopers at bay. Otherwise, compost bins with wire tops or sealed lids work well too, but require a little more manual labor in terms of stirring.
Of course, another option would be to make the compost indoors using a worm bin. You can still put kitchen scraps in just like in a bigger outdoor compost pile, but without the worry of attracting wildlife. The website Instructables.com offers instructions for how to create your own worm composting bin. Another good source is the blog One-Change.com, which offers a step-by-step guide to the process.
The long and short of it is that if you know what you’re doing, composting can be a rewarding, environmentally friendly and pest-free experience. For some great tips on how to get started, visit the website Composting101.com, a comprehensive and free guide for the home gardener on what to do and how to do it.
Also, some forward-thinking cities such as Seattle are picking up food scraps with yard waste at the curbside along with garbage collection, and making huge amounts of commercially viable compost out of it. If your city or town offers a similar program you might want to consider saving yourself the trouble of doing it at home for the common good.
One more thing to keep in mind is that the garden itself may attract as much if not more wildlife than some food scraps in a compost pile. Strategically placed fencing and wire mesh can frustrate some critters enough to keep them moving along, but you can be sure some of your neighborhood wildlife will reap the harvest that you’ve sown. And as long as they leave enough for you, who can’t live with that?
CONTACTS: OrganicGardening.com, www.organicgardening.com; State of Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, wdfw.wa.gov; Instructables, www.instructables.com; One Change Indoor Compost Bin, one-change.com/blog/2006/04/indoor-compost-bin/; Composting101.com, www.composing101.com.
Dear EarthTalk: What happens to major appliances that get carted off when new ones take their place? We have a dishwasher and a refrigerator that are both on the blink now and may need replacement. I’d rather fix them than buy new, even if it’s more expensive to do so, because I don’t want to add these big clunkers to the waste stream. What’s your take on this? — D.M., Westport, CT
If you look hard enough you might be able to recycle those old appliances, and they will likely be reconditioned and find a good home in a household less privileged than yours, or broken down into their reusable parts and used to help rejuvenate other salvageable units.
The first place to check is with your utility, which would like to see you upgrade to a more energy efficient new model—an older fridge uses upwards of three times the energy of most newer models. Utilities in 10 U.S. states and in Ontario, Canada offer some kind of rebate and free pick-up if you do decide you want to upgrade in partnership with a company called Appliance Recycling Centers of America, Inc. (ARCA), which oversees the appliance recycling process. ARCA’s system can prevent up to 95 percent of the recyclable materials in old refrigerators and freezers from entering the waste stream.
Check with your utility to see if they participate in ARCA’s program or perhaps offer one of their own. For example, Puget Sound Energy in the Seattle area works with ARCA to offer customers free pick-up of old appliances for recycling and a $30 rebate on their next bill. One caveat is the appliances must be operational, even if not working at full capacity.
If your utility doesn’t participate in ARCA’s network or have its own appliance recycling program, maybe your municipality recycles appliances, although it’ll likely cost you $30 or more. Some will even send a truck for pickup for an additional fee.
But what if neither option is available in your area? Check out the non-profit website Earth911.org, a free online database of recyclers for anything imaginable across the U.S. Search for the keyword “appliance” and enter in your zip code. You will likely find more than one option within driving distance, but don’t be surprised if, like with a municipality, you have to pay not only to recycle your poor old broken down fridge but also for pickup if you need it.
If the appliance is still working, another alternative would be to donate it to a worthy cause which can either find it a good home with a needy family or sell it and put the proceeds into its programs. The housing non-profit Habitat for Humanity runs Habitat ReStores to resell donated goods in 48 U.S. states and nine Canadian provinces.
Appliances as well as donated furniture, home accessories and building materials are sold to the general public at a fraction of the retail price to help local affiliates fund the construction of Habitat for Humanity homes within their communities while simultaneously keeping reusable appliances and other materials out of the waste stream. The Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and the American Council of the Blind also may take donated appliances in working order.
CONTACTS: ARCA Inc., www.arcainc.com; Puget Sound Energy, www.pse.com; Earth911, www.earth911.org; Habitat for Humanity, www.habitat.org; Salvation Army, www.salvationarmy.org; St. Vincent de Paul, www.svdpusa.org; American Council of the Blind, www.acb.org.
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