Tag Archives: Conservation

DIY Compost Pile

Last week I wrote about how you can actually use egg shells in your compost pile, but then I realized I haven’t written anything about starting a compost pile. It’s actually really simple and really effective if you like to garden. You can even start a compost bin in an apartment. Here’s how you get started:

1. Get a bin

You can actually just make a compost pile an actual pile, but everyone recommends getting a bin for the sake of neatness and organization. Also if you plan on composting food scraps, it’s better for keeping the animals away. Below is what a typical compost bin looks like:

This commercial bin stacks for easy turning.

Ideally, you’ll want a bin that is about a cubic yard, but you can work with one that’s smaller.

2. Green, brown and everything in between

A good mixture of green and brown scraps is recommended. Green scraps such as grass trimmings, young weeds and comfrey leaves provide nitrogen to the pile and generates heat. Brown scraps are high in carbon and add fiber. You can use dead plants, autumn leaves and even cardboard to give this kick to your compost. Coffee grounds, hair and paper towels can also be composted, but use these items sparingly.

Make sure you mix everything in the bin really well too. You want to layer it so it’s even and there’s no compact areas of green or brown. Depending on the materials you have available either do a mixture of 3 parts brown to 1 part green, or half and half. Use a pitchfork or a shovel to turn your pile once a week to ensure the mixture keeps decomposing.

3. Maintain

Like I said above, you need to turn the pile once a week. This keeps the air flowing through the pile to help the  anaerobic decomposition. But you also want to keep the pile damp. Depending on the weather where you live, you might need to add water to it. The temperature is important also. The best way to test temperature is to feel the top of the pile. If it’s warm or hot, the compost pile is working. If not, just add more green material high in nitrogen.

4. Don’ts of Composting

Try to avoid composting bread, nuts, pasta or cooked food. They don’t break down well and cause your compost to turn slimy. Also out of health and safety reasons, never try to compost meat, bones, plastic, oil, fats, human or animal waste (ew) or magazines.

Give it some time then harvest it. You have been successfully sustainable!

3 Things You Can Effectively Reuse

I was watching TV the other night when a commercial came on. CBS Cares was advocating for reusing items instead of trashing them. I was so excited! Then I saw them drop a coin into a bank fashioned out of a pop liter, and I raised my eyebrows.

Look CBS, I know you care, but who is going to want to keep a pop bottle piggy bank around for years? Eventually it’s going to end up in a landfill anyways. Don’t misunderstand me, a pop bottle piggy bank is very clever, but there are items you can reuse more effectively. So I wanted to name a few:

1. Eggshells

Eggshells are great for composting. They decompose quickly and enrich the soil with calcium. Crushed eggshells sprinkled into the soil also acts as a great insect and pest repellent for gardens. And if you’re into Pinterest I bet you’ve seen this:

eggs

You can reuse eggshells to grow seedlings. Just fill with potting soil and plant the seeds. They transfer easily into the ground once the seedlings are too big for their containers.

Eggshells also can make coffee less bitter, just crush them up and line a coffee filter. When you’re done, toss into a compost pile if you have one.

And if you’re brave, eggshells and apple cider vinegar can even be combined to produce a home remedy for minor skin irritations.

Also, researchers at the Ohio State University are developing ways to use discarded chicken egg shells into a sustainable hydrogen fuel. Turns out these little powerhouses are all sorts of useful.

2. T-Shirts

When you don’t know what to do with your old t-shirts, don’t throw them away. Start a DIY project!

I have plenty of old t-shirts from high school that I don’t wear anymore because they’ve shrank or became worn and dingy. Instead of tossing them though, I’m always looking for ways to give them a second life. Earth 911 has some great ideas you can utilize to reuse your old shirts. Don’t worry if you’re not handy with a needle and thread, many of these ideas only require scissors or glue. I particularly like the idea of making a shirt to make a shopping bag.

Market-Tote

3. Packing Peanuts

Packing peanuts are often thought of as little environmental nightmares. While the best thing to do is find a recycling center who will take them off your hands, there are things you can do with them.

polystyrene-packing-peanuts-how-to-recycle

For one, you can save them and store them away until you need to mail something. By paying them forward, you reduce the need for more packing peanuts, and you can request the next recipient do the same. If you have a green thumb, packing peanuts can also be used in lieu of gravel for gardens and potted plants. The biodegradable variety are great for drainage and they’ll make potted plants lighter. Packing peanuts also keep ice from melting quickly. All you have to do is fill a plastic baggie with them and place them on top of ice in a cooler.

So have you ever tried reusing any of these items? Are there any household items you do reuse or are interested in their reuse potential?

3 Great Green Initiatives from the Cincinnati Zoo

I took a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo this past Friday. Not just because it’s Penguin Days (although penguins are pretty awesome), but I wanted to see some of the conservation efforts the zoo has been implementing.

Back in 2010, the former governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, called the Cincinnati Zoo “the greenest zoo in America” after it had received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certifications on four of their buildings. I read about all their initiatives online, but I wanted to see firsthand what is making the zoo leaders in sustainability, and while there are many, many green projects that  the zoo is responsible for, the three below are, in my opinion, the most innovative and unique.

3. Water Conservation

Rain garden sign in the Go Green Gardens
Rain garden sign in the Go Green Gardens

Storm water runoff is a huge problem in Cincinnati. Our sewer system is one of the oldest in the country, and with the growing urban population, it’s no longer built to handle the city’s needs. So when it rains, things get messy. To handle the overflow issues, the Cincinnati Zoo decided to try a few methods, one is the pervious pavement that soaks up water when it rains instead of letting it flow into the sewers. The others are literally green: rain gardens and vegetative roofs.

Rain garden outside the Schott Education Center
Rain garden outside the Schott Education Center

Rain gardens are planted in low areas with local, water-thirsty plants. They collect rainwater as it falls and runs off the pavement, reducing flooding in the zoo’s neighborhood. It’s an ideal garden for urban living as it also functions as a habitat for wildlife and it doesn’t need much space. The benefits from a rain garden also include reducing pollution and erosion and the fact that the plants’ roots will purify rain water as it runs deeper into the soil. The zoo hopes that their rain gardens in the Go Green Garden and just outside the Education Center will serve as an example to other large, urban facilities on how they can begin conserving water.

Green roof on the giraffe barn
Green roof on the giraffe barn

Vegetative roofs serve the same function as a rain garden, holding up to 75 percent of rainfall. They also are useful for reducing the urban island heat effect which increases the temperature of cities and suburbs by up to 7 degrees more than rural areas, not to mention it cuts back on pollution by filtering the air. Just like the rain gardens, the two green roofs at the zoo, one on top of the giraffe barn and the other at the Primate Center are designed as a test to see what works and what can be improved.

2. Composting and Recycling

Solar trash compactor
Solar trash compactor

I’ve always seen the green recycling bins scattered around the zoo whenever I visited, but I saw something new this time, and being the nerd that I am, I was really excited to see it: a solar trash compactor. I’m not sure how popular or widespread these are, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen one. From BigBelly Solar, it’s a literally a smart trashcan. It goes beyond recycling to reducing the amount of waste. It uses miniature solar panels to power the compactor on and crush whatever is in it. The best things about this is that it is an on-site compactor, so it can hold up to five times a normal trashcan’s capacity, reducing the number of times it needs to be collected and taken to Rumpke. Less exhaust, less pollution.

Composting is another project the zoo is working on. With that many animals, there’s going to be a lot of waste. Not just the kind of waste I know you’re all thinking, but food scraps and bedding need to be replaced as well as leaves and grass trimmings from maintenance, and that old material needs to go somewhere. So instead of wasting it, the zoo composts it. About 7 tons of organic material are composted each week. The zoo actually is in a partnership with Marvin’s Organic Gardens, a landscaping company who only uses organic material. More than 2,700 pounds of animal waste is composted daily at Marvin’s Organic Gardens totaling up to more than 1 million pounds every year.

And finally…

1. Solar Panels

Solar canopy over the parking lot
Solar canopy over the parking lot

Solar panels aren’t exactly new technology, but the way the zoo is using them is unlike anything else. A solar canopy sits in the parking lot, sheltering cars and generating energy to power zoo. It’s made up of 6,400 panels and is the largest publicly accessible, urban solar array in the United States.  The winter sunlight is really weak, but even when my friend Rachael and I visited, the zoo was operating on 75 percent of power harvested by the solar canopy. Now imagine in the summer on a really sunny day how much solar energy the zoo collects. On those really sunny days they can operate off the grid. Not only that, but any extra energy collected on those days can be stored and saved for another time.

Control panel
The interactive green monitor allows visitors to see how much solar energy the zoo is running on at that time.

(One other good thing about the solar canopy: it protects your car. That becomes really helpful to visitors in the summer when there’s no other way to avoid getting in a stifling car with seat belt clips just waiting to burn your hands. Also, almost all of it was locally made!)

Solar panels and wind turbine in the Go Green Garden

The reason I admire the Cincinnati Zoo so much is because they’re so focused on conservation efforts with wildlife and ecosystems, they are very green energy savvy, they encourage sustainability and because they prove that even a large, urban facility can operate in an earth-friendly, eco-conscious way with little strain on the environment. There are so many more green initiatives there, and I encourage everyone to go check them out.

And of course go see the penguins:

For more information on the Cincinnati Zoo’s green initiatives go to: http://cincinnatizoo.org/conservation/go-green/green-initiative/