August 17, 2010 | General

Climate Change Connections: Making Progress

BioCycle August 2010, Vol. 51, No. 8, p. 51
Sally Brown

I’m feeling pretty accomplished, these days. If I weren’t so stiff, I would give myself a pat on the back. Do you realize how much has changed since I started writing this column in June 2007? When I started getting into this whole organics and greenhouse gas subject, this was far from a normal topic of discussion. And now more and more, in many different ways, much of the stuff that I’ve written about is becoming just matter of fact, everyday, how things are done.
A while ago, I wrote a column where I talked about Vinnie the butcher. Growing up, I used to shop for meat at Vinnie’s Meat Market on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. Vinnie not only sold great meat, he wrapped it in brown butcher paper. The point of that column was that an important next step in recycling food scraps was to make the food packaging recyclable or compostable.
Just last week I was shopping for meat at the Ballard Market in Seattle. While nothing like Vinnie’s, the Ballard Market has a lot of locally grown stuff, a very nice staff and Oregon beef. They also, as I learned at the check out, now use compostable plastics to package their meat. The nice guy at the check out started bragging to me, that the “plastic Styrofoam” on the bottom of the meat package, that brown stuff, was compostable. At this point the lady doing the bagging (and yes I had brought bags from home) chimes in that it is best to put it in the food/yard waste recycling container rather than to try to compost it at home because it needs the heat that you get at a large-scale composting facility. I thanked them both, assured them that I understood about the heat at the large-scale facilities and smiled the rest of the way home.

Another while ago, I wrote about the importance of urban gardening and how these new found gardeners are great customers for locally produced composts. Now urban gardening is getting to be almost as popular as sliced bread. Take Kristen McIvor for example. Kristen is working on a PhD with me, although, despite my nagging it is not clear exactly when she’ll finish. It appears that she is doing too much cool stuff to take the time to write about it.
Kristen came to my office many years back with a background in landscaping and community organizing and a goal of teaching people how to grow food. I hooked her up with the biosolids program in Tacoma, suggesting that she could work to tie use of the city’s Class A soils products to the development of community gardens. Dan Thompson, the man in charge of the program in Tacoma, can be a patient individual, and so he was willing to let Kristen work in the biosolids program over a few summers, thinking that it was worth a shot. Tacoma is not a “green city” like Seattle, where everyone vies to be more eco-friendly than the next guy. Tacoma is a normal town where people are likely more concerned about keeping their lawns green than the evils of synthetic fertilizers.
But times change: Kristen just accepted a full time job with the City of Tacoma. She will be working as a community garden coordinator, and integrating the Tagro soil products into the gardening community. This is a position that her work essentially created. Community gardens are thriving in Tacoma. Thanks to Kristen (and the guys at Tagro) the biosolids products are being used in school gardens and in pea patches in neighborhoods across the city. This phenomena is not limited to Tacoma, or Seattle, or Cleveland, or Boston. At the USEPA Brownfields conference last year, a session that I attended on urban farming was one of the most crowded and highest ranked in the conference.


Perhaps the most important change that I’ve seen is the growing recognition that organic residuals are not wastes to be disposed but resources to use. I don’t know how many columns have had this as a general theme. Columns on the benefits of composts for soils. Columns on controlled anaerobic digestion, not digestion in landfills. Columns on the greenhouse gas benefits of composting.
And look at the changes that have taken place. The Governor of Florida just upheld a landfill ban on yard trimmings. The USEPA is reevaluating the Waste Reduction (WARM) greenhouse gas emissions model to reflect more benefits of compost use as well as to better reflect gas release from landfills across the range of stages of landfilling operations. There are now three protocols on carbon exchanges in the U.S. that give credits for landfill diversion of organics – one at the Chicago Climate Exchange for facilities composting food scraps, yard trimmings and biosolids, and two at the Climate Action Reserve for food scraps (one for anaerobic digestion and another for composting). And here in Seattle, Cedar Grove Composting, the company that composts the food waste and yard trimmings from Seattle and King County, just announced it is going to build a dry anaerobic digestion facility to treat organic feedstocks prior to composting.
These are all examples of how change is happening, but this doesn’t mean that change is happening all over. In order for that to occur, more municipalities, individuals, supermarkets and others have to adopt these practices. But in comparison to just five years ago, there are now a number of examples that you can explore to figure out how to implement these changes.
Most of the places where these changes have taken place are more than happy to talk about what was involved. To share their road maps, give directions or ideas on how to get started. Ask them, copy them, give them their bragging rights. This is really the time to have these types of changes become normal behavior. And this will only happen if more and more places start making these changes. Maybe reading this column will get you excited, but the changes will only take place if you start laying the foundations.

Sally Brown – Research Associate Professor at the University of Washington in Seattle – authors this regular column. E-mail Dr. Brown at

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