Greenprint: Using Compost to Fertilize Gardens

Spring fever has officially set in and naturally, one of the things on many people’s minds is gardening. We recommend incorporating “gardener’s gold” as you prep your plots this year: Composting can help you save money while also reducing waste and improving the quality of your soil. As you work on cleaning up your yard, you can add the materials to a compost bin and toss in your organic food scraps – they’ll naturally decompose to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer that will help you grow healthy plants.

There are many benefits to composting:

  • Reduce landfill waste. Nearly 30 percent of the garbage that is sent to Michigan landfills could actually have been composted.
  • Decrease the amount of greenhouse gases produced by food waste sent to landfills.
  • Improve soil quality by adding compost to gardens.
  • Reduce the use of chemical fertilizers.
  • Save money – use your own compost instead of purchasing fertilizer from a store.

How to compost at home:

  1. Choose an area in your backyard with good drainage and shade.
  2. Start the pile with a layer of twigs or mulch as a base.
  3. Add a thin layer of “green” materials, e.g., fruit and vegetable peelings, grass clippings or weeds.
  4. Cover with a layer of “brown” materials, e.g., dry leaves, twigs, paper or straw.
  5. Moisten your compost pile.
  6. Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5.
  7. Turn the pile every four to six weeks.

*Avoid placing meat or dairy products in compost.

You’ll be able to use the compost in your gardens in three or four months. If you’d like to speed up the process or don’t have room for an outdoor compost pile, you can purchase a batch-style composter for under $100 at most hardware stores. These bins can be placed on decks and take up less space in your yard.

For more in-depth information on the benefits of composting as well as detailed instructions on how to compost, you can refer to https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home and www.howtocompost.org.

We’re breaking down organic matter at the Detroit Zoo on a much grander scale! More than 500 tons of waste is generated annually by the animals that live here. So, in order to reduce our ecological footprint and move closer to reaching our goal of becoming waste-free, we constructed an anaerobic digester on Zoo grounds. Anaerobic digestion is a process by which plant and animal materials are broken down, producing a methane-rich gas. This renewable energy will be used to power the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex at the Detroit Zoo, saving us $110-120,000 a year in energy costs. By diverting manure and food waste from the landfills, we are also reducing the greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change – methane and carbon dioxide – in the atmosphere. The remaining nutrient-rich material will be used as compost to fertilize the gardens throughout the Zoo’s 125 acres.

Next time you are at the Zoo, check out our new sign detailing the anaerobic digestion process and contemplate the impact of keeping 55 wheelbarrows of manure each day out of the landfills!

Join us on our Green Journey and begin composting this spring! Take a look at the many other steps you can take to help us create a more sustainable future by downloading our Shades of Green guide.

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the award-winning Greenprint initiatives.

Greenprint: Back-to-School Sustainably

Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Back-to-school time can be exciting but also stressful when you’re staring down the lists of needed school supplies. According to the 2014 Google report card, back-to-school is now the second-largest retail event of the year. When making our purchases, several factors can come into play, like the latest trends or cost-saving, but now is the time to instill in our children – even college students – that sustainability should always play a key part in consumer decision-making.

  • First and foremost, take stock in what you have from the previous school year and try to reuse supplies as much as possible. The most important part of this action is to communicate with your kids about why it is important to reuse as much as possible. It not only saves your family money, but you’re helping consume less, which helps to protect the environment. Also consider donating any unwanted, lightly used school gear and/or winter wear to a local charity or school that accepts materials for the upcoming school year.
  • For any purchases you need to make, always consider the environmentally responsible goods first. Look for binders made from recycled plastic and notebooks made from recycled or FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) paper. Below are key symbols to keep in mind:

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 10.32.37 AMlogo - 100recycledmateriallogo - scs_certified  logo - FSClogo - scs_responsiblesource_fcp

 

  • Pack a sustainable lunch that focuses on reusable options. Check out the Detroit Zoological Society’s ZooperHero waste-free lunch guide.
  • If your home is not along the school bus route, or public transportation is not an option, consider setting up a car pool with other classroom parents or even a bike route.
  • Encourage your school to take up composting or to create a certified habitat. The National Wildlife Federation has a great certification program that also provides how-to-guides.

Please share your sustainable back-to-school photos in social media and tag @detroitzoo on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

– Beth Wallace