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Advocacy group sheds light on the necessity of composting

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Maurija Skansen demonstrates proper composting techniques at a composting exhibition at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market on Sept. 11, 2011
On Sunday, Sept. 11, the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market was host to a composting exhibition put on by environmental advocacy group Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council.

The event included demonstrations meant to encourage city composting.

According to Maurija Skansen, one of the demonstrators and an event coordinator for Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council, composting is truly a science.

“You’re always experimenting and trying new things,” Skansen said

She cited one basic rule to follow however, it’s “equal parts greens and browns.” This essentially means that the amounts of food scraps, or “greens,” should be equal to the amount of yard waste like leaves and grass clippings, or “browns.”

Along with the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council, volunteers from the City of Saskatoon’s Master Composting Program were also present at the event. The volunteers were knowledgeable and trained in advanced composting techniques.

The organizers conducted composting demonstrations and also had a booth set up to pass out information pamphlets.

Skansen said the overall goal of the event was to shed some light on what composting is, how it works and why it should be a mainstream practice, similar to recycling.

Of course, there is a stigma attached to composting. Some view it as strictly for hippies and environmental nerds, and others simply see it as unnecessary.

“A lot of people are still reluctant to do it, although more people [in Saskatoon] are doing backyard composting,” said Skansen.

Another myth related to composting is that if you throw food scraps in the garbage they will decompose.

Skansen explains, “[food scraps] won’t decompose in a landfill. The material needs air and the right mixture. It doesn’t have the right conditions in a landfill to decompose.”

So how does one create the right conditions for decomposition? How does it work when it’s -38 degrees and any small amount of moisture instantly turns into an icicle? And, how expensive is this all going to be? These are some of the questions an average citizen who hasn’t been exposed to composting is likely to have.

It turns out that composting does not require one to buy the super fancy black plastic bin, which seems to be the most popular model. The container can be a basic plastic tub or even a large black garbage bin with a lid.

Creating the right conditions is only a matter of poking holes, stirring the compost often with a tool to help decomposition take place faster and following the rule of equal greens and browns.

Skansen said the mixture should feel “like a sponge”.

In the winter, scraps of food may simply be added to a bin. The scraps will freeze, and in the spring the mixture will thaw and already be half decomposed.

The reward of nutrient-rich soil while reducing overall waste seems to make composting a no-brainer. But some people still may hold-out, thinking that it’s unsanitary or smelly. However, there are easy ways to avoid the smell.

“Stay away from protein is a good rule. This includes bones, milk products, sauce oils and meats. Because proteins break down through a different process, they can putrefy and attract pests and rodents,” Skansen warned.

Another display at the farmers’ market was a tub of newspaper shreds, food waste and squiggling worms — otherwise known as vermicompost. Although it requires a little more attention than regular composting, the worms will yield a more fertile soil and decompose food scraps faster.

By adding shreds of vegetable ink-based newspaper to the worms, moisture levels and temperatures will remain correct. The worms must be stored indoors.

“[Vermicomposting] is the best waste reduction management for the household,” said Skansen.

A variety of information can be found on composting, vermicomposting, the Master’s Composter Program, events and other methods of waste reduction at

photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf

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