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October 22, 2019

Jacob friede/lakeland timesDeb Shaw of Hsu Growing Supply, pictured with a pot of finished compost, presented at Project North in Rhinelander last weekend.
Jacob friede/lakeland times

Deb Shaw of Hsu Growing Supply, pictured with a pot of finished compost, presented at Project North in Rhinelander last weekend.

10/5/2019 7:30:00 AM
Finding value in waste
Project North Festival hosts presentation on recycling and composting
Jacob Friede
Of the Lakeland Times

The Project North Festival, held in Rhinelander last weekend, was a progressive celebration of music, art, and the environment. It was a cutting-edge event that featured a wide array of bands, artistic displays, and advocates for environmental sustainability, and in fact, the festival itself was an advocate for environmentally sound practices.

There was a ban on single-use plastics at Project North, and all food containers and utensils provided to festival goers were biodegradable. In addition, all food and drink waste was prepared for composting.

That was music to Deb Shaw's ears. Shaw, the retail sales manager and community outreach coordinator for Hsu Growing Supply, a soil and compost producer out of Wausau, was on hand at the festival to give a presentation titled "Recycling and Composting in Today's World," and to remind people that not all waste should be wasted.

"I hate to see things going into the garbage," Shaw said. "As a family when we started actively recycling and composting we went from taking our garbage container out once a week to not needing to take it out to once a month. When you start to actively pursue these things, composting and recycling, you can really reduce the amount of product that goes into the landfills."

Recycling has become common place in society, and Shaw praised the awareness for it that exists, but she said people need to be more conscious of what they are recycling. She said even though an item may go into a recycling bin at home, it may still end up in a landfill after being sent through a sorting facility.

"Lots of different types of things can be recycled, but make sure your recycler can take it and it's not going to end up in a landfill anyway," Shaw said.

To ensure this doesn't happen, Shaw recommended people pay close attention to recycling codes on products they purchase and they become aware of their community recycling policy.

"Certain things can be recycled and some cannot. You need to look at the bottom and look at that recycling code," Shaw said. "Take the time to pay attention."

For items that cannot be recycled, Shaw promotes reuse whenever possible.

"One more use of these items is going to slow it down going to the landfill," she explained.


Composting is another way to stem the flow of waste into landfills, but the practice of piling up organic material like food scraps and yard waste and letting it decompose is far less popular than recycling.

But, according to Shaw, it's no less important, especially in a world that wastes so much food as well as the resources to package, ship, and sell it.

"That all is also lost income, money, how ever you want to look at it," Shaw said. "Most of this ends up in the landfills. Now that is a problem, one, not only because we're filling up landfills and have no place to go with this material, but also food that could be composted, food scraps, other compostable materials, include and create methane gas."

Plant material holds carbon dioxide in it's cells. When composted, that carbon dioxide simply turns into unharmful carbon in the soil. However, when thrown in a landfill, organic material produces methane gas that enters the atmosphere and contributes to an already warming planet.

But beyond cutting down on methane gas, composting also does wonders for the soil. Added organic material helps soil retain moisture and nutrients.

"Organic matter in general is very good for the soil. A good rich soil often has very high organic matter naturally," Shaw said. "If you have compost or other organic materials in there the nutrients and things attach to that and it slows down their loss into the soil."

This is important for plant growers because good soil leads to healthier plants.

"Plants grown in good soil, nutritional soil, well developed soil, taste better and have a higher nutritive value," Shaw said. "Healthy plants do not attract insects and diseases easily."

Shaw said unlike fertilizer, which is like a vitamin shot for the plants, compost is a boost for the soil itself.

"Compost enriches the soil and is more of a long-term solution to help your plants grow," she said.

Shaw, who has a degree in ornamental horticulture and urban forestry, grew up on a farm outside of Milwaukee and has been composting her entire life, though she admits it was easier in the county where there was more room and no neighbors worried about the presence of a compost pile.

Still, she said, city dwellers should not be afraid to compost and that it can be done rather easily and unobtrusively.

"A good compost pile doesn't smell," Shaw said. "You're not going to see a bunch of insects flying in and out of there, and it should actually look good."

She added that good compost, once completed, looks like rich soil.

To achieve that, she uses a three-pile method and regularly turns the compost.

"I like three bins because I have an active pile which I'm adding new stuff to, I have a half done pile and then I have a finished pile," she explained. "And I just go from one and turn it into the other and turn it into the other. And that turning incorporates oxygen."

Oxygen is important because it enables microbes to break down the organic material more quickly and efficiently and it helps eliminate excess moisture which can cause odor.

Shaw said at home using her methods, she gets good compost in 16 months.

In an industrial setting, like at Hsu Growing Supply, where massive compost piles are heated to 140 degrees and turned every three days, compost is completed in four months.

Hsu produces 3,500 to 5,000 tons of finished compost a year to sell to gardeners and growers and therefore they must rigorously test their compost and it must pass strict industry standards.

A lot of the material composted at Hsu comes from surrounding towns that drop off huge quantities of leaves at their facility after being collected from residents.

Shaw said a similar municipal food scrap collection service is being developed in the village of Weston which neighbors Wausau.

"Village of Weston is working on a food scrap drop-off situation. We're working with them one-on-one to try and get that program started," Shaw said.

Such a program would enable residents to drop off their food scraps at a particular location from where it would be collected for composting.

It's an ideal situation, Shaw said, and she has hopes that the idea will prosper.

"I just think that we need to raise the awareness for a lot of people," Shaw said.

Until there is widespread municipal compost collection programs, like garbage and recycling pick-up, it is largely up to individuals to make sure their food and yard waste are not wasted, and composting is a sure way to achieve that, for the good of the planet, it's soil, and it's plants.

"No matter what, the organic material is coming back into my yard. Into my garden. And it's not ending up in a landfill," Shaw said about the benefits of composting. "Mother Nature has been doing it for a long time."

And what better example to follow.

Jacob Friede may be reached at or

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