Cashing in on Restaurant Food Scraps

  • These loafs of bread were left in a park for wildlife to eat (not recommended by biologists). Most table scraps end up in a landfill. But a program in some cities is using table scraps from restaurants to make rich compost. = -2>(Photo by Lester Graham)

As you sit down to a holiday dinner this season…
here’s something wild to think about…some of the produce on
your plate, or even the wine in your glass may have been
produced using food scraps from restaurants. How? The
leftovers are collected and turned into compost, a natural
fertilizer that’s increasingly popular among wine grape
growers and organic farmers. Tamara Keith
reports:

Transcript

As you sit down to a holiday dinner this season… here’s something wild to think about:
some of the produce on your plate, or even the wine in your glass may have been
produced using food scraps from restaurants. How? The leftovers are collected and
turned into compost, a natural fertilizer that’s increasingly popular among wine grape
growers and organic farmers. Tamara Keith reports:


The food goes from plates in upscale restaurants, to green waste bins picked up by a
recycling company. The leftovers are then trucked out a compost facility.


(sound of the big machines)


Here, at Jepson Prairie Organics, the waste is transformed from discernable food
items,
to dark lush humus. Greg Pryor is general manager of the facility in Northern
California.


“If you look closer it’s you’ll find fish, shellfish, there’s a leek right there,
and onion.”


Yard clippings and a little cardboard are mixed in for balance. It’s all ground up,
and
stuffed in large black bags, 200 feet long and 10 feet wide.


“Really about a week into the bag it starts to break down and it really loses its
identity.”


After 30 days, the compost is removed from the bags, and continues to break down for
another month or so. As bacteria go to work on the food scraps and clippings, they
generate heat, so even on a hot day steam rises up from the rows of compost. Pryor
started in the trash business almost 15 years ago and he says it has come a long way.


“All of this used to go into a landfill and it just wasn’t right. And to me
personally that’s
the biggest benefit is that it’s putting materials back to a beneficial re-use,
there’s just
nothing better.”


The end product is marketed as “four course compost” to vineyards and organic
vegetable farms.


(Mexican music coming from a truck)


Just a few miles away at Eatwell Farm, workers are snipping and tying off bunches of
organic arugula. That peppery green was grown in soil bolstered by four-course
compost. Farmer Nigel Walker says he applies a heavy coat of compost after every
harvest, sometimes as much as three times a year.


“And we just always do that. I don’t even have to. Roberto’s our tractor driver.
I don’t
even say ‘put compost on, Roberto.’ He just knows. We put compost on and then we
cultivate it in.”


In the past, Walker has used compost made from animal manure. It works fine, he says,
but he likes the idea this fertilizer comes from restaurants.


“It’s a great compost, we need a compost and we likes where it comes from, it’s pretty
simple.”


This time of year, the makers of four-course compost make a lot of deliveries to
California wine country, home to some of the nation’s premier wines. Linda Hale is
the
field supervisor for Madrone Vineyard Management in Sonoma County. She and her
employees look after 400 acres of wine grapes for wineries like Ravenswood, Sabastiani
and BR Cohn.


Hale says they use compost between the rows, to prepare the land for winter.


“Right after you harvest, you come in, you prep the ground, you put your compost in,
seed it and let the vines go to sleep for the winter. And that’s just your good night
medicine.”


Hale says the compost improves the vigor of the vines. Healthy soil, makes for
healthy
plants, and healthy plants she says are better able to fend off pests and disease.
And
Hale says, it prices out the same as synthetic liquid fertilizers – the current
industry
standard.


Plus, winemaker Tom Montgomery at the BR Cohn Winery says it’s kind of fun to think
about what might have gone into the compost.


“There’s probably a little filet in there, some veggie dishes, aso bucco…” (laughs)


Montgomery calls it fertilizer with pizzazz.


“I think it makes a difference to us. I’m not so sure that it makes a difference to
the
wine.”


Other cities, even other countries are starting to pick up on the food-to-field
idea. Soon a
group from Toronto will be touring the compost facilities to see if they can
replicate the
program in their city.


For the Environment Report, I’m Tamara Keith.

Related Links

Affordable Housing Goes Green

  • Here is what a solar electric system looks like when it is mounted on a home. The panels are grid-connected and the system has backup battery. (Photo courtesy of NREL)

Often only pricey homes benefit from energy efficient and environmentally friendly technologies such as solar panels and completely non-toxic materials, but that kind of green technology is finding favor with non-profit groups that provide affordable housing.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee looks at why many non-profits are trying to do good by building green:

Transcript

Often only pricey homes benefit from energy efficient and
environmentally friendly technologies such as solar panels and
completely non-toxic materials, but that kind of green technology is
finding favor with non-profit groups that provide affordable housing.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee looks at why many
non-profits are trying to do good by building green:


Holly Denniston’s got a tough job. She’s the real-estate director for a
non-profit housing agency. Denniston’s got not one, but two, bottom
lines to watch. On the one hand, she’s trying to build affordable housing
for thousands of low and moderate-income families in Chicago. On the
other hand, it’s not enough to develop a cheap house and walk away.


As a nearby commuter train rolls by, Denniston explains she’s got to
make sure families can afford to stay in these homes.


“We want affordable housing in the long run. When heating costs rise, when
electricity costs rise, we don’t want our homeowners to have to move
out. We want them to live in these houses for thirty years or for as long
as they want and be able to raise a family here without spending all of
their dollars on housing.”


That means the best fit for struggling families are homes that are cheap
to buy and cheap to live in.


Denniston leads me up the stairs of a nearly-finished town home she says
fits that bill.


(Sound of steps and door)


Inside, it’s not much different from high-priced town homes sprouting up
in most cities, but Denniston says I probably missed the most notable
feature of the building: a roof made of solar shingles.


“If you would take down the ceiling from the second floor, you would
see a spider web of lines coming down, leading down to the back of the
house, and then leading to an inverter in the basement.”


The shingles and power inverter generate electricity. The system’s
simple and needs almost no intervention by the occupants, but more
importantly, it’ll save the family thousands of dollars in power
bills in the next few years, and Denniston says this isn’t even their most
efficient home.


Some of their homes consume less than three hundred dollars worth of
energy per year – even with cold Chicago winters, but building homes
like this isn’t cheap.


The solar shingle system added thousands of dollars in up-front building
costs. So, how do groups like Bethel build green while trying to keep
their own costs down?


Well, usually, they get help.


“Basically I think we can say that all of the affordable housing projects
that are doing this are doing it because they’re subsidized by either state
or utility programs.”


Edward Connelly is with New Ecology Incorporated, a group that studies
and promotes green affordable housing.


“The up-front cost is generally not in within the budget of an
affordable housing developer for photo voltaics, because they tend to be
expensive.”


Reliance on government or utility company subsidies can cause
problems. Connelly says some states make these subsidies available to
everyone, not just non-profits.


That means non-profits have to compete with traditional homebuilders
for the money to build green, and the subsidy programs sometimes
run short of demand.


“The utilities this year have run out of money for the energy star rebates
in Massachusetts because so many people took advantage of them, and
that’s not just in the affordable realm.”


Affordable, green housing faces other problems, too.


These projects sometimes move at a snail’s pace. That’s because
agencies often have to juggle several funding sources. Each government
agency or utility adds its own requirements, and managing all of them
consumes a lot of time. That means people who need affordable housing
have to wait longer, but when these groups do get the required funds, the
long-term benefits for low-to-moderate income families are impressive.


Chicago architect Susan King’s developed several green affordable
housing projects. She says non-profit projects benefit from energy
efficient technology, but their social missions push them even further.
They include features that go beyond just saving money.


“It’s an easy sell because they really do care for the life of the building,
whereas the for-profit developer just cares about that bottom line.”


She saw that attitude develop in her latest building.


It’s energy efficient and has solar power, but the non-profit also wanted
paint that wouldn’t pollute indoor air. King says, for now, housing
groups build more environmentally friendly homes than market rate
homebuilders with similar budgets, but she predicts that gap will narrow.
Average homeowners will soon demand more environmental amenities.


“I think the not-for-profits are setting an example that the for-profits are
going to follow, but they’re not going to follow it because they’re shamed into it.
I think they’re going to follow it because in the end, it’s going to make economic sense.”


Back at the energy efficient and environmentally friendly town-home,
Holly Denniston says some day, most of the features here will be
standard in the home industry, but she says non-profits will keep adding
additional value to homes even if that means spending more money up
front.


“To non-profits, that’s alright; we’re not looking for the highest return,
we’re looking at sustainable community.”


So, Denniston says a project like this shows affordable housing isn’t
about cheap housing. It’s about building homes where people can afford
to live.


For the GLRC, I’m Shawn Allee.

Related Links

Hazards of Going Off the Power Grid

  • Some people see living off the power grid as a good way to save money and energy. Others caution that living off-grid is more trouble than it's worth. (Photo by Johnny Waterman)

For most homeowners, electricity requires flipping a switch, plugging into an outlet – and writing a monthly check to the power company. Off the grid homeowners sometimes get to skip writing the monthly check to the power company. But the tradeoff might be climbing a 100-foot wind tower to make repairs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cari Noga reports on what it takes to go off the grid and why some people are encouraged to find other ways to be environmentally friendly:

Transcript

For most homeowners, electricity requires flipping a switch, plugging into
an outlet, and writing a monthly check to the power company. Off the grid homeowners sometimes get to skip writing the monthly check to the power company. But the tradeoff might be climbing a 100-foot wind tower to make repairs. Cari Noga reports on what it takes to go off the grid and why some people are encouraged to find other ways to be environmentally friendly:


In most of the Midwest, both solar and wind power are needed for a home to go off-grid. That’s because the region doesn’t get enough sun in winter, or enough wind in summer. Dave Van Dyke has both. He’s had a 100-foot wind mill tower on his northern Michigan property for nearly 10 years.


“I’d guess there’s hundreds up in northern MI. They’re not so well known because they are small. Unless you’re in a place to see them, you don’t even notice them. Like mine. We’ve had one there since 96, and some of my neighbors in Maple City still don’t know it’s there, until I said something.”


Van Dyke and his wife first used solar panels and then added the small wind generator for their home’s energy needs. More recently, they started a farm business on their 31 acres and
bought a more powerful wind generator.


“Right from the start we’ve been interested in renewable energy. We
were just homesteaders, basically trying to figure out how this off the
grid homestead was going to evolve. It turned into a farm just three years
ago.”


Van Dyke uses wind and solar power because it’s environmentally friendly. But he says there are disadvantages to going off-grid. His first generator was problem free, but still required at least a yearly climb to maintain the tower.


The second generator has had a lot of mechanical problems. It was once down for eight months. The Van Dykes had to install a backup line connecting them to the grid. So it’s meant some work and inconvenience for them.


Jackie Ankerson lives near the Van Dykes. Two years ago she and her
husband installed a wind and solar system. She said because their 5-acre property is in a remote area, it helped justify the cost of between 15 and 17-thousand-dollars to go with the alternative generation system.


“Because of where we chose to live, it would have cost us almost as
much to bring in grid power as it did for our off-grid system.”


The desire to live in a remote place where power lines don’t run is a
common reason people install alternative energy systems. Another is a green conscience. John Heiss says he likes working with those homeowners. Heiss owns Northwoods Energy. Based in northern Michigan, he travels nine months of the year installing alternative home energy systems.


Heiss has customers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and even Mexico. Some want to control their own energy supplies, instead of relying on the power grid. Some are die-hard do-it-yourselfers. Others want to protect themselves from rising energy prices and diminishing supplies. They want to do their part to conserve fossil fuels.


“There’s a big consciousness. Right now we’re listening to our president tell us about an energy plan, and it’s not hitting any of these issues, and there’s people calling me every day asking about these issues, wanting to do something about it. They’re saying, well this is nuts.”


It’s a big change from 1992, when Heiss started his company. The first few years, business was slow. Today, his phone rings steadily.


“Somebody calls every day for something. I can really pick and choose who I do projects for, besides the fact that I have over 200 systems installed right now that I’m maintaining and servicing and keeping those alive, cause that’s a full time job at times..”


But Heiss winds up talking a lot of potential customers out of installing alternative energy. Maintenance is one reason. Others don’t realize how much power they use, and get sticker shock at the cost of a comparable alternative system. Instead of going off the grid, Heiss says those homeowners can help in other ways. He suggests they choose more efficient appliances and lighting. That minimizes the amount of power they need.


“It’s much easier not to spend as much money by changing lifestyle, and doing it without sacrificing, just making good choices.”


If homeowners still want alternative energy, they might need permits. More townships and counties are setting regulations, especially for wind towers. Some homeowners think it will all be worth it when they can sell surplus power back to the grid. But Heiss says they’re mistaken.


“A large percentage of people are misled, and think that they can make money selling renewable energy, power to electric companies. You’re not going to make it. You’ve got to realize at best it’s going to be a break even proposition.”


If a customer is not only willing to accept all that, but does so with a passion and enthusiasm, Heiss says he’s found someone he can work for.


For the GLRC, I’m Cari Noga.

Related Links

Junk Cars Become Environmental Art

We’ve come a long way since Henry Ford’s black Model T. Cars of every shape, size – and color – now practically dominate American life. Which poses a problem – what to do with the cars once they’re piled high in junkyards. A recent public art project offered one passionate recycler a chance to reuse junked cars in his art. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak has this story of “Art on Wheels”:

Transcript

We’ve come a long way since Henry Ford’s black Model T. Cars of every shape, size – and color
– now practically dominate American life. Which poses a problem – what to do with the cars
once they’re piled high in junkyards. A recent public art project offered one passionate
recycler a chance to reuse junked cars in his art. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak has this story of “Art on Wheels”:


The American landscape is filled with automobiles. Lines of fancy molded steel are everywhere
– in parking lots and bumper to bumper along the highways. Or, as Canadian folk singer Bruce
Cockburn once observed, a kind of “sheet metal ballet.” But, sadly, when the dance finally ends,
there’s nothing left but junkyards of crushed steel. A recent community art project suggested that
re-use could be an answer to the old environmental debate of what to do with all the junk.


(sound of kids at the art show)


Dozens of artists were asked to come up with their own unique ways to re-use at least some of
that automotive scrap for the recent “Art on Wheels” Project. Art teacher Bruce Adams describes
what he and his high school students call the “Environmentally Friendly Car.”


“There’s a picket fence on each side. The front we call the front lawn, because the surface is a
big, grass lawn, with a bird house, so the birds can live there over the summer. Then the back of
it, we call the backyard, it’s a garden, it’s a got a pond, it’s got a stream running down to the pond
– it had fish living in there all summer.”


Adams says they built the car as sort of an ironic commentary on the whole American dream
thing. That’s what many of sculptures in the exhibit were designed to do – to make a statement.
Other sculptures, such as the cement truck chicken, were simply intended to be outlandish. But
for one of the exhibit artists, Doug McCullum, re-use isn’t a novelty. It’s a lifelong expression.
You might even say an obsession.


“My sister broke her femur…I made a lamp out of her steel leg splint. It was a little strange
thinking that, you know, this thing spent six months in my sister’s leg –
but she kind of enjoyed the lamp.”


McCullum is, well, shall we say, passionate about re-use? Okay, so you might even call him the
Dr. Frankenstein of the junkyard. His Gremlin car sculpture from the exhibit features some of
his junkyard creations. They’re popping out of the roof, the hood, the doors and the gas tank.
Come meet Scratch, Knock, Guzzle, and the rest of the Gremlins gang.


“The car is covered in a wide variety of monsters, all named after things that go wrong with your
car – henceforth the name Gremlins. They are all made out of various things like air compressor
tanks, and old recycled drive shafts, and snow blower hoods, and old air tanks.”


No, McCullum isn’t an auto mechanic, or a junk dealer. He’s an architect by trade, who likes to
create recycled art in his spare time. But McCullum doesn’t have to go far for re-use materials
when he begins a project. He just walks downstairs and scrounges around in his basement.
McCullum says he saves everything – and he’s especially partial to automobile salvage.


“I have so much steel, and so much stuff that I’ve recycled in my basement that it would take a
small crew to move that stuff out, and that’s just the way I create.”


McCullum says there are plenty of worn out or broken parts from his own cars down there. And
he’s never one to pass up somebody else’s cast off muffler or tire tread abandoned at the side of
the road. McCullum hauls it all home for his next project. And if he does run into roadblock
while creating? McCullum says he loves to go shopping – at the junkyard of course.


“It’s like shopping at the mall for me. I like climbing through the piles, and digging through
something, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Like, oh… this could be a great head, and sit
that aside… I go looking for a part and I come out with like a couple hundred pounds worth of
steel. Like, yeahhhh, like there was a big sale at the mall and I’m coming out with the spoils of
my labor.”


But make no mistake, for McCullum re-use isn’t an idle past time, it’s a professional and personal
commitment. As both an artist and an architect he says he believes in the beauty and the
possibility of preserving everything. McCullum says things can and should last. He says it’s
purely a matter of vision.


“Basically, anything that is discarded can be re-used in a wide variety of ways, just people don’t
have the vision or that kind of mentality to really think in a different way. And that’s really what
this whole project is about – the Art on Wheels thing in general – you can re-use everything.”


(sound of kid yelling, “Look a bug car! There’s a bug on top!”)


MCullum says the unusual automobile inspired sculptures were fun to make – and to look at.
Mind you, he doesn’t expect to see gremlin cars or cement truck chickens roaring down the
highway anytime soon. But McCullum says hopefully the exhibit will help turn people on to the
possibilities of recycling.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Joyce Kryszak.

Study: Green Groups Should Target Big Institutions

A new study indicates environmental groups could help conserve resources faster if they’d spend more time trying to change the buying habits of big institutions instead of individuals. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

A new study indicates environmental groups could help conserve resources faster if
they’d spend more time trying to change the buying habits of big institutions instead of
individuals. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


We’re often reminded to buy environmentally friendly products… re-use… recycle.
But a new study reveals that a lot more progress could be made if environmental groups would
spend more time trying to convince big business, big institutions, and government to buy green…
recycle… and implement more environmentally friendly practices. Lisa Mastny is author of the
study from Worldwatch Institute.


“We don’t really think about the places we work and the supermarkets we shop at, places like that
do their own buying and in much, much larger quantities than we would do in a household. So,
larger changes can occur and on a larger scale if you approach institutions rather than simply
individuals.”


And Mastny argues many of those changes can benefit the institution… such as more energy
efficient lights that save on the power bill. Mastny adds green buying is not a solution to what
she calls the “world’s rampant resource consumption,” but it can lessen the impact.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Automakers Accelerate Toward Greener Cars

In the next few months, Honda and Toyota each will launch a
new type of super clean car, called a hybrid. The fact that the
Japanese
are
first to market hybrid vehicles concerns some environmentalists.
They’re
worried that domestic auto makers aren’t moving fast enough on this
promising technology. But in an unusual move, environmentalists are not
chastising the big three. Instead, they’re lending a helping hand. The
Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Edelson Halpert files this report: