Rotten to the core
Composting project survives harsh Yellowknife winter

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 02/97) - Composting could divert tonnes of garbage from the city dump, according to preliminary results from a pilot project launched last year.

The project was designed to show composting can work in the North and, at the same time, divert waste from dumps and create food for Northern gardens.

A survey completed by 24 project participants indicated an average of 60 kilograms of waste was saved per household during the first eight months of the project.

Based on the results, the study concludes the landfill would be spared as much as a tonne of garbage each year for every 11 households using composters.

The main challenge of composting in the North is the same one that confronts most anybody trying to do anything -- the cold.

"Once the cold weather came in, the compost itself was all frozen," said Rosalie Power, one of the participants. "Since then we've been putting some in and saving some things, like cardboard."

Power said by last fall, after composting since the beginning of the summer, she had enough to fertilize part of her garden.

Frank Wijma entered the project with more experience than most. He'd tried vermiculture (composting using worms) and, since then, had simply put his organic waste in garbage can to decompose.

"That didn't do anything, other than just turn it to mush," he said.

The composter wasn't much better, said Wijma, but it could have been.

"I just threw my vegetable scraps in there whole. I think it would have worked much better if I had cut them up into smaller pieces and turned it over more regularly -- I wasn't very vigilant.

"Now I have a pile of what were frozen vegetables, that are now thawing out."

Though Wijma will have to wait until the end of summer to assess the composter's effectiveness, Wijma said he already knows it's a good idea.

"I spend some time at the dump and it amazes me how much compostable material ended up there.

"But I don't think the city should look only at the amount of waste I've diverted by composting. By becoming aware of composting I've become aware of waste in general, and now look for ways to divert other waste that isn't recyclable."

Based on a similar experiment in Whitehorse, the Northern Backyard Composting Project was organized by the city's environmental action committee.

The environmental protection service of the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development also contributed to the project.