I love being a part of a community with A Clean Life. There are so many people living the way we all can/should. Here is one, Dave Cacner, an avid composter. Read on as Dave shares some of his clean lifestyle with us:
What is the favorite environmental thing you do?
It’s a toss-up between making compost and recycling/reusing what I can. I’ll take whatever vegetable matter we don’t use in the house and compost it. I’ve even been known to empty the vacuum cleaner bag or take out the dryer lint and add them to the compost pile. In terms of recycling, I recycle whatever paper we have down to the paper price tags that come on clothing or even toilet paper rolls.
How close to zero waste are you?
Pretty close. We don’t subscribe to the twice-weekly garbage service. First of all it’s way overpriced, and since I live less than 3 miles from the Fairfax County transfer station, it’s really easy to justify not paying $30 a month for garbage/recycling pickup. I estimate that our family of 3 puts out less than 1 large garbage bag a week, or about 3-4 plastic grocery bags worth of garbage. The rest is composted or recycled! Or reused.
How do the other people in your life take to this?
My wife and daughter tolerate my cause and of course recycle the standard fare; i.e. newspapers, junk mail, bottles, cans, etc. And they also diligently fill up our composter under the sink. Of course, I have to take it outside whenever it’s overflowing. As far as my friends and neighbors, I think they are somewhat envious, especially when I tell them my garbage bill is around $6.00 a month. I haven’t seen anyone give up the “convenience” of having the garbage trucks drive through the neighborhood at 7 AM during the week.
What are the benefits you have found in doing all this?
I feel good about how our family is making a difference by reducing the garbage we produce and even in suburbia I feel connected to the land through my composting.
What are you trying to do next?
Your questions have made me think about starting a garden next year. Every year I think about it and then it’s too late to plant anything. I’d also like to start buying more local foods and visit farmers markets as part of our normal grocery-gathering.
Do you compost? Describe your process, bins do you use (inside/out), any problems, has it become habitual?
Yes! I’ve been composting since we moved into our home back in 1995. I had been just putting the grass clippings in the woods when my wife came across The Rodale Book of Composting on sale at Borders one weekend. I highly recommend this for beginners and those who want to understand the history and science behind composting. It really energized me into composting more than just grass clippings. I went out and purchased two plastic bins, one green and one black (similar to this photo) through a Montgomery County Maryland subsidization program several years ago. The county was offering them for only $5 each while Home Depot had them for around $30 each, and I haven’t found anything so reasonable since. If I could, I’d buy a couple more to put out in the woods. As you research this, you don’t need fancy bins…and don’t waste your money on those rotating cement mixer-like contraptions offering to turn your garbage into dirt in mere days. Just make a pile in the corner of your yard and toss your clippings and table scraps in there turning periodically. You’ll be surprised how easy (and fun) it is.
As it is, if I fill up both bins and seem to have more to compost than can fit neatly into the containers. I throw grass, hedge trimmings, coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, dryer lint, dog hair, fireplace ashes, etc. into the green bin to work awhile. Then after a few months (with no action on my part) or a few weeks (with periodic turning) I move the semi-composted muck into the black bin to work a little more until it’s ready for screening. If I did nothing to the piles, in about a year I would have “black gold” or very rich dirt. If I were to turn the piles more often, adding water and mixing everything up while exposing the bacteria to air, I’d have that rich dirt in a couple of weeks.
When I’m ready to make soil, all I do is take a homemade screen from 2X4’s and galvanized hardware cloth and sift out the twigs, rocks, and other materials that don’t break down so rapidly. I place the screen over my wheelbarrow, mix in some peat moss, and shovel the resulting soil into used mulch bags. Earlier this summer I made about 5 cubic yards of soil in about an hour. The flowers love it!
Really I don’t have any problems with the compost. Fortunately our HOA allows compost bins and the neighbors don’t mind. Of course I offer them some of the dirt for their plantings. We never have to buy dirt or potting soil and whenever we plant any bushes or flowers, I always add a shovelful of my compost to help enrich the clay soil we have in Northern Virginia.
What has been the hardest part about your composting?
Not having time to get out and work the piles. It really helps to turn the piles as the more air you introduce the faster it turns into soil.
What are you growing in your garden?
Sadly nothing. One of my projects this summer will be to build some boxes that I can attach to my deck…something along the lines of this.
Where do you get your food from? Farmers Markets? Hardcore locavore?
Mostly Wegmans. I’m working on the Farmers Markets
What kind of trash bins does your city provide to you?
N/A. We have some recycling bins and a wheeled garbage can that the previous owners left us. I have two bins for recycling newspapers and other paper products including the paperboard boxes such as cereal comes in as well as the traditional junk mail. I also have 3 bins for aluminum, plastic (1 & 2), and glass. I really wish the county would start taking some of the other types of plastic…I really feel guilty throwing out the butter dishes and non-1&2 type PET.