The voyage of an orange peel label from waste to “compost”

Remember those oranges in the rainbow fruit salad that was a hit at your last Sunday afternoon party? Compliments about the flavour and the texture of the oranges were pouring in from your guests. Now, do you remember what you did with the orange peel? You threw it in the green bin and it never crossed your mind again. Do you recall taking off the small plastic price look-up (PLU) label off the peel before placing it in the green bin? The answer is most likely you forgot and ignored the green bin until garbage day.

Few of us know what happens next to our organic waste. The green bin is a kind of black hole: it swallows our waste and most of us never think about it again. Let’s follow that humble orange peel and see where it takes us.

Our FoodPrint_Graphic_2016-05-04Once picked-up from your curb, the orange peel is trucked to the Hamilton Central Composting Facility where it undergoes over a month of processing. The truck will dump it onto one of several piles that will be moved towards a conveyor belt. Many of us are careless when it comes to separating our compost, so the conveyor belt takes our orange peel up many storeys towards a shredder that breaks it apart into small segments. A large magnet removes any possible metal fragments and a series of sifters will attempt to clean contaminants from the compost.

Our orange peel is now in a hundred pieces, but one of those still has the PLU firmly attached. The next 10-14 days are a flurry of bacterial activity as the compost pile reaches the right temperature and loses half its mass before being transferred to another tunnel. Another week and the whole pile is passed through yet another round of screening. It may not seem like much, but this tiny little piece of plastic doesn’t break down and can ruin a whole batch of compost. Municipal compost has standards for contaminants and during the final sifting phase, that little PLU can cause a whole multi-tonne batch to be rejected and sent through the process again. All the energy, time and resources it took to break down the organic matter are used once again.

The next time you throw that orange peel into the green bin, take the time to remove the label and know that you are not only helping improve the quality of the compost that will enrich local farmers fields, but that you may have saved tonnes of organic matter from unnecessarily undergoing another round of composting.

Tip of the month

While we typically throw away orange peels, these are a few ideas on how they can be used to reduce our food waste – include them when baking muffins, cooking an orange sauce, or in your garden to deter cats.

Avoid throwing PLU sticker labels, rubber bands, plastic bread tags, tea bag labels, twist ties, plastic bags and glass in the green bins.

Use proper liners for your kitchen catcher including paper, paper towels, and compostable bags with the BPI certification logo. What cannot be broken down are plastic, shopping, and oxo-biodegradable bags.

References

If you would like to learn more about what happens after your organic waste is picked-up, check out these videos.

Halton Region - how we compost GreenCart organics in Halton

AIM environmental: Composting facility for green bin program

Where your Green Bin stuff goes?

To read more about the Halton Region green cart program and tips, visit Green Cart Tips.