Sunday, June 6, 2010

Adventures in Composting: 100% compostable chip bag? We'll see about that.

We've been composting a long time now, way back to when I was certified as a Master Composter in the early 90s.  As part of Marin's efforts to reduce the waste stream, the County created the program, patterned on the Master Gardeners, to train compost educators and activists.  For a couple of years I gave compost classes around Marin on the weekends, teaching people how, and how to love worms.

In terms of our own operation, we started small at our old house, two big yard-waste bins out back and a worm-box in the kitchen.  I know that might not sound small, especially to those who don't have a yard, but it felt small. And certainly part of what we looked for when we moved was both garden and compost space.  So at this house, we graduated to a three-bin active yard-waste system, a passive two-bin in the very back of the yard for woody stuff that needed to sit longer, and a worm bin for our food scraps.  We've been composting such a long time that it's just a normal part of our little suburban farmer routine.  But I do love it and can still get worked up about how cool it is (July 08, and more recently January 10).

Over the past five years, we've taken to throwing into our compost items which we're told are biodegradable: the corn-starch ice cream spoons from the Scoop in Fairfax, potato-starch spoons from Three Twins.  The spoons have been re-surfacing regularly for five years, no change at all.  And our compost cooks.  I haven't stuck a thermometer in there lately, but judging from how quickly we go from a three-foot pile of clippings, coffee grounds and mown grass to a 1 foot pile of glorious, sweet-smelling compost, it's hot in there.  Transformation, of all but spoons, is happening.

So, naturally, when I saw this 100% compostable Sun Chips bag, I had to buy it.  I admit to a weakness for Sun Chips so that was a no-brainer.  And now that I've finished the entire bag of chips, we get to test the veracity of their claim.  Which is that in a hot home compost pile this bag will go from how it appears at left to nothing in 13 weeks.

  Really, who could resist the opportunity to green the world one bag of chips at a time?

I placed the empty bag in the middle of a pile of compost, then set about methodically layering that cake: dry stuff, green nitrogen-rich clippings, water, partially decomposed stuff from the next bin over, until that bag was buried good. My plan is to look for it whenever we turn the compost over the next 13 weeks, and take pictures of it every time, to see whether it really does break down as they say it will.

Here's where the Sun Chips bag is living for the moment, three-feet of organic matter.

Fingers crossed that this works. If it really does, great and then perhaps they'll use that plant-based material for other applications.  Yay.  But it doesn't work, then I suppose the bag can keep those bomb-proof ice cream spoons company.

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