Soils are fertile ecosystems that contain living microorganisms, eroded ancient rock materials, and decayed organic matter. When soils on our planet are healthy, they help sustain all life on Earth from the tiniest organisms only visible through microscopes to humans and other animals who call countless different habitats home. Healthy soils help plants thrive, mitigate stormwater runoff, sequester carbon, improve farmer’s crop yields, cycle nutrients, and more. When soils are polluted and otherwise destroyed, these once dynamic ecosystems lose many of their beneficial properties and while we often think our impact on soil health is limited to actions we take in our daily lives, that’s not the case. Even in death we have the ability to either nourish or harm living soils.
In Of Dirt and Decomposition: Proposing a Place for the Urban Dead, Katrina Spade, Founder and CEO of Recompose, examines the alarming data related to the funeral-industrial-complex: “The annual tally of buried materials in U.S. cemeteries is more than 30 million board-feet of hardwood and 90,000 tons of steel in coffins, 17,000 tons of steel and copper in vaults, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete in vaults, and more than 750,000 gallons of formaldehyde-laden embalming fluid.” Spade goes on to explain that the combination of air-tight caskets and about three gallons of formaldehyde result in “a soup of putrefied toxic liquid” that “[pollutes] the very soil to which [we] owe [our] lives.” Spade’s company, Recompose, is working to address these and other issues related to death care practices that harm the planet and perpetuate narratives about death that prevent people from understanding the full nature of life on Earth. Death care practices that could benefit from composting.
At Recompose death care specialists participate in a process known as natural organic reduction, otherwise known as human composting. Phases one through five are detailed on their website as follows:
The Cycle Begins
“Natural organic reduction (NOR), also
known as human composting, is powered
by beneficial microbes that occur naturally
on our bodies and in the environment.
The Laying In
“Our staff lay the body in a cradle surrounded
by wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. The
cradle is placed into a Recompose vessel
and covered with more plant material.”
“The body and plant material remain in the
vessel for 30 days. Microbes break everything
down on the molecular level, resulting in
the formation of a nutrient‑dense soil.”
“Each body creates one cubic yard of
soil amendment, which is removed from
the vessel and allowed to cure. Once
completed, it can be used to enrich
conservation land, forests, or gardens.”
Life After Death
“The soil created returns the nutrients
from our bodies to the natural
world. It restores forests, sequesters carbon, and nourishes new life.”
People who choose to have their body undergo this process have the option to donate their soil to Bells Mountain, a 700-acre nonprofit land trust in Washington. “The land’s caretakers use the soil donated by Recompose to support the continued revitalization of wetlands, riparian habitats, local plants, and vulnerable wildlife species,” and the process itself results in the removal of about .84 to 1.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. Compared to the 28 gallons of gas needed for a single cremation, and the negative environmental impact of traditional burials, NOR is the alternative death care practice gift that keeps on giving.
NOR is currently only legal in two states but legislators in New York are working to make human composting an option. The proposed bill, A00382/S05535, “provides for the creation, operation, and duties of natural organic reduction facilities as cemetery corporations for the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.” Despite pushback from the New York State Catholic Conference, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin told the Niagara Gazette that NOR is “cleaner and greener” than traditional burial practices and that it’s “in line with many religious practices.” Catholic leaders urge that it is “essential the body of a deceased person be treated with reverence and respect.” Not only does NOR prevent poisons from polluting the bodies of deceased persons, it also allows the organic matter of which bodies are composed to truly return to the Earth and nourish new life. When it comes to “reverence and respect for human remains,” a key consideration for Catholic critics of the proposed bill, a death care practice that honors natural cycles, encourages healing of the planet, and allows bodies to become one with the Earth without spreading toxins could be an environmentally and spiritually friendly option.
But the point of NOR isn’t just to add another “green” action to one’s to-do list. Too often, the burden of repairing structural and systemic issues is aimed at individuals, many of whom are chronically disenfranchised. Even the death care industry has a history of discrimination and disenfranchisement that calls the idea of death being the great equalizer into the question. In Greening Death, Suzanne Kelly explains that “before the 1930s, Chinese Americans were barred from becoming funeral directors, leaving their experiences of death, as well as their death customs, in the hands of white actors.” She goes on to add that “until 1968 it was legal for cemeteries to refuse to bury bodies on the basis of race.”
Now, the $15 billion death care industry has the opportunity to center equity, public health, and planetary healing. From educating people about the complex history of the industry to increasing access to ecology-focused burial options, the harmful elements of the funeral-industrial complex can be abolished. One composted human body at a time. Additionally, access to other alternatives to traditional burial can be increased with the help of information campaigns and advocacy for policy and legislation in death care management that offer people more options.
It’s time for society to stop treating cemeteries like landfills. Humans are part of natural cycles of life and death that can help us heal the planet instead of continuing to cause harm. With NOR humans can actually become worm food when they die, as all organic matter ultimately does, instead of source material for groundwater pollution. NOR gives people the option to help heal living soils instead of destroy them. Since we don’t just live on Earth but with Earth, the option to give back in this way allows us to really leave no trace. Only healthy soil.
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Originally hosted on #SaveOurCompost’s Instagram page: Check out Shasti Balasundara, founder of WeRadiate in conversation with Common Ground Compost’s very own, William Klimpert! Listen as they chat about the vital role data plays when it comes to composting and organics recycling.
PLEASE NOTE: We ALWAYS recommend that businesses replace disposable products with reusable ones. Waste reduction is the best way to handle your waste, followed by recycling and composting. Is there a way for you to stop using straws altogether, rather than looking for a compostable straw? Or coffee cup? Or plate? That’s the goal. If not, we’re here to help find the best solution.
So what is a “Certified Compostable Product”? And is biodegradable the same as compostable? What is BPI? What is ASTM D6400? What?? We’d like to help clarify some of the confusion around Certified Compostable Products that you might find in your business’s waste stream and shed some light on the conversation in general.
Let’s start by introducing the concept “greenwashing”. This is when businesses develop products that are either “green” in color, or “green” because they have leaves printed on them, but the products are not actually environmentally sustainable, or the entire story isn’t being told. Be mindful of greenwashing where you live, work and consume. Below we describe products that are actually compostable and not just pretending to be.
Here are legitimate Compost Certifications you will find on Disposable Products:
These are the compost industry standards for products that are “ok to compost” in industrial facilities (more on this below). BPI is the most commonly used certification in the US, and the [[vert]] is the European standard. When compost facilities see these certifications, they know that the products should break down properly in their industrial-scale compost operations. ASTM D6400 is an industry standard that usually refers to compostable bags.
We wish it were simpler, but there is no specific brand or material type that we can point to and honestly claim: “anything made by these guys, or anything made from this, is compost friendly.” Unfortunately there is just no broad-brush approach. Our best advice is to look for the BPI Certified Compostable stamp/icon whenever you’re purchasing items that you expect to send to a compost site. Also, if you’re not sure whether your coffee cup or to-go container is compostable, try looking on the bottom or side for these icons.
Plant-based plastics, like PLA, (polylactic acid), are tricky. We’re not materials scientists, but here’s how it works. It is possible to make “plastic” out of plants, using the natural sugars found in plant cells. However, sometimes products say that they are “made with plant plastics”, but are still not “certified compostable”.
It can be cheaper to mix plant-based plastics and regular petrochemical plastics together to make a fork, than it is to use 100% plant-based plastic. Once you get different types of plastics mixing together, the compostability of the final product goes out the window. You might see a product that says it is “made with plant plastic”, but you need to read the fine print to see that it is only x% plant plastic, and the remainder is regular PET (polyethylene terephthalate) or HDPE (high-density polyethylene) or another type of other plastic.
The most difficult reality here, is that once you mix a normally recyclable plastic, like PET or HDPE, with a plant-based plastic, like PLA, it becomes nearly impossible to recycle that product. The market is now flooded with products that are either compostable or recyclable, and those frequently look identical to other items that are neither compostable or recyclable.
Some compostable products look like they’re made of paper pulp. That’s because they are! Many compostable bowls and plates are made out of waste materials from other industrial processes. Bagasse, for example, is a byproduct of the sugarcane industry, which is now being used as a value-added product in the compostable product market. We’re excited to see these packaging innovations continuing to pop up!
Many compost facilities are willing to accept paper-based Certified Compostable Products, because they break down faster than PLA. Fiber-based compostables can be less expensive than plant plastics, and they sometimes have a lower production footprint as well, because they can be made of waste products, rather than from virgin materials like corn.
In an industrial composting environment, fiber-based compostable products act a lot like a paper product or another dry plant material, absorbing liquid and breaking down over time among other organics.
So what is a business owner to do!?
Inform yourself (if you’re reading this, then you’re already on the right track!). If you work with a compost hauler, make sure to confirm that the compost site they partner with can accept Certified Compostable Products. As an alternative, use regular-old recyclable plastic and metal products instead. Aluminium, when rinsed, is one of the most recyclable materials, so you might be better off simply ensuring that your aluminium recyclables are making their way to the proper facility. And of course, investing in reusable materials whenever possible is the absolute most eco-friendly solution.
“Eliminating food waste” was the theme of the inaugural Zero Waste Food Conference, hosted by The New School and the Institute of Culinary Education. The purpose of the two-day event, held on April 28th & 29th 2017, was to “discover better methods for the way we produce, distribute, consume and dispose of food in the environments where we cook and where we eat.” Panel discussions covered topics such as sustainable kitchen design, uncovering fresh connections in the food chain, and repurposing kitchen “scraps” into delicious, sustainable meals. Cooking demonstrations addressed food innovations such as beer made from surplus bread, butchery that wastes not, and the art of preservation through fermentation lead by pickling experts. The schedule was jam-packed with illuminating discussions and wow-factor cooking demos, we can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!
As a Zero Waste event, it was important that the conference produce as little landfill waste as possible. Common Ground Compost was thrilled to provide waste management services throughout both days to help achieve that goal. In preparation for the event, our staff assessed the various event spaces and designated optimal waste station placement. We communicated with the building staff to ensure they understood the plan for the conference, which included stationing volunteers at each waste station, to be sure that waste separation tips could easily be communicated to event attendees. Supervision at waste stations can be one of the most effective tools to reduce contamination in the recycling streams, and as was the case at the Zero Waste Food conference, the volunteers provided the added bonus of educating participants in responsible waste management in NYC. CGC provided waste stations and color-coded signage where needed, and had representatives present to prevent contamination and track the various waste streams. At the end of the day at each venue, we weighed every bag of waste and categorized it as either compost, recycling, mixed paper, or trash. Take a look at the waste characterization from the event, especially the high proportion of compostable waste!
We had such a blast contributing our services to this conference. We had great discussions with many curious participants about responsible recycling practices and even learned a thing or two about sustainable cooking!
If you are hosting an event of any kind and need waste management help, please reach out. We can’t wait to hear from you!
The word “organic” means anything relating to or derived from living matter. All organic material can be composted, but not always by the same process. Animal bones and wilted lettuce compost under the right conditions, but different microorganisms are needed to do the work, and will finish the task on different timelines. Because there are many different processes for breaking down organic material, different sites and haulers accept slightly varying materials. Typically, if you are dropping food scraps at a collection point in NYC the following items are not acceptable: meat, bones, fish, dairy, fats/oils, and Certified Compostable Products. If your organics are being collected curbside or by a private hauler, a wider variety of materials, included those just listed, are generally accepted.
GrowNYC Greenmarket, Commuter Drop-Off, & Community Garden Programs
NYC Curbside Collection
NYC’s commercial composting laws are in place and being enforced. Never fear, we’ll help you stay up to date and in compliance!
The most recent official notice regarding commercial organics rules was released on January 19, 2016. Link to the official notice here. The rules were put into effect on July 19, 2016 and were made enforceable by law on January 19, 2017. These rules are outlined below for your convenience.
What types of businesses are required by NYC law to separate their organic waste?
For these businesses, what types of organics must be separated?
How to comply and avoid violations:
TAGS: Hauling, Signage, Sustainability, Food Waste, Composting, Commercial Composting, DSNY, Laws, Regulations, Compliance, Waste Audit, Organic Waste
Whether you work in a shared office space with a foosball table, a fancy corporate headquarters with a skyline view, a hot new restaurant, a late-night music venue, or a boutique cafe prizing latte art, you and your coworkers produce a variety of “waste”. Dealing with that waste is complicated, no doubt about it, and while environmentally responsible waste management isn’t always the easiest thing, it doesn’t have to be too difficult either. So whether you own a business, or work somewhere that could use a second look at its waste management policies, we’ve outlined some information below to help ease you into an environmentally sustainable operation.
In 2016 the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) released an Official Notice that outlines new recycling requirements for businesses. These will be enforceable by law starting August 2017. Additionally, as of July 19, 2016, certain large food waste generators in NYC are required by law to separate their organics. Official Notice here. The organics law applies if you are:
For more information on the regulations, we’ve written a POST for you!
If none of the above apply to you, but you want to compost your organic waste anyway, we applaud you! Here are some compelling reasons to justify this change to your employees, to convince your boss, or just to brag…
Now armed with five reasons to compost, how do you actually go about putting your fantastic idea into action? The easiest thing to do would be to call or email your friends at Common Ground Compost so we can evaluate your business and help you implement a new system that fits seamlessly with your current operation. But if you’re a DIY’er (much respect), here are some steps you can take…
FIRST: How are you going to dispose of your organic waste?
a.) Hire a private hauler for multiple waste streams, including food waste. It’s
a good idea to get multiple quotes to find the best price. HERE is a list of vendors as of 2015 to get you started. We recommend asking about the programs a potential hauler provides and confirming they work with your type of business.
b.) Hire a micro-hauler (for organic waste only). The following organizations work in NYC and, for a small fee, will pick up your organics and process them locally.
c.) Self-transport. Most NYC businesses will not elect to self-transport organic waste to a processing facility, but if you do, you must register with the NYC Business Integrity
d.) Process on site. For most NYC businesses, processing organic waste on site
will not be possible. However if you are able and choose to do so, you must register
with the DSNY within 30 days of installing on-site processing equipment – check out our post on commercial compost regulations, or contact us to discuss!
SECOND: Depending on who will be processing your organic waste, make sure you know the rules for what can and cannot be composted. This can vary greatly depending on whether your hauler uses an aerobic or anaerobic process, or whether they are a massive facility or a local organization. This is especially true when it comes to dairy and meat products. We can help by contacting your hauling company and/or speaking directly to the compost facility.
THIRD: Educate your employees or fellow co-workers. Find out who on staff is particularly excited to be composting and see if they are interested in managing the process. Make sure your new waste management system is clear enough for a baby to understand. Color coded bins and signs can be really helpful here. We love signage.
FOURTH: Shout it out, loud and proud! Let all customers and visitors know how to dispose of their waste effectively. Make it known that you’re a business that cares about the environment. Post it on your website! Put a sign in the window. No one will chide you for gloating about your waste stream mastery, quite the contrary.
AND IF THAT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF WORK…
What with all the other responsibilities you have at your job… call us! That’s why we’re here. We’ll come to your place of business (our first site visit is complimentary), and we can perform a waste audit. Next, we’ll contact your existing haulers to make sure you’re getting the best deal on all of your waste streams. If you’re not, we’ll help you get the best bang for your buck. During that initial site visit, we will walk through your business to understand your current layout, and can work with you to determine a seamless waste strategy, educate your employees, set up the necessary infrastructure, and be available to you for any hiccups or questions that arise while you’re adapting. We even provide high fives, free of charge! We love high-fives almost as much as we love composting.