“There’s a new ‘JOHN’ in town”

David Myers checks it out–no smell!!! — in the composting toilet.

If you poop, add a scoop. If you pee, let it be.

Months later, top-dress the brown spots in your lawn.

I interviewed David Myers of Build-Rite Construction LLC/Myers Barn Shop, and RN, a customer of his, about the Sun-Mar Composting Toilet. And the statements above are about the long and the short of it.

Myers is a Sun-Mar dealer, and has sold composting units in the region for the past 3 years. Due to their lack of impact on the environment– there is nothing to flush, no leachate to treat–the toilets can be installed anywhere, but they are still considered an oddity for local permitting departments because the National Building Code, requiring a conventional septic. However, per application the local counties are giving it some attention.

A year prior to finding Sun-Mar, RN had purchased and installed another brand of composting toilet that only meets the performance standard of the National Sanitation Foundation (Sun-Mar composting toilets are certified by the National Sanitation Foundation) but it proved to have odors and did not compost completely. So he went to a Mother Earth News show with his family and his young daughter spotted Myers’ Sun-Mar display. “Buy one!” his daughter urged him.

 

And since his small home did not provide room for the large composting toilet system, he chose the self-contained unit. Based on his bad experience with the other brand and looking at the show model at Myers’ office, he decided to buy a Sun-Mar unit. “We wanted something simple, that worked, with no environmental impact,” he says.

 

All Sun-Mar toilets are designed so that air is constantly being drawn in and up the vent stack providing odor-free operation; some have an electrical fan and heating element that dries out the compost material quickly; others use natural draft to do the job. The human waste (the nitrogen portion of the composting process) mixes with the Sun-Mar organic carbon bulk material — “it contains hemp straw and peat moss as well as other components, though people have tried to make up their own version it doesn’t work very well,” Myers says. Turn the drum regularly for six rotations, where the carbon and nitrogen stock that make up compost are mixed; only adding a scoop of the bulking mix at each bowel movement (add a scoop when you poop!) The carbon/nitrogen mix drops into a holding tray at the foot of the toilet, which is emptied 4-6 times per year in an average 4 person household.

 

“The smell is non-existent,” RN says.

 

Myers says he added Sun-Mar composting toilets to his offering of storage buildings, cabins, garages, and basement remodels because it is an affordable option when access to plumbing and electricity is difficult to access. We also have Sun-Mar units designed for the whole house where the toilet looks more like a traditional toilet with the composting taking place below the floor of the home. The units range from $1,500 – $3,000.

 

New City Leaf Policy – Storms of Change

Some people eren’t happy about the City of Frederick’s new “leaf collection policy” when it was put in place last fall.

Interestingly, it’s just another example of the indirect impact of impact climate change on our everyday lives.

Better maintenance of Frederick City storm drains-including discontinuing leaf sweeping into streets–could help with freak storms like the YMCA flooding. (photo by D. Farrar)

In an attempt to soften the change in service, the city positioned it as an increase in service: weekly leaf pickup service would be replacing the every-other-week collection that city residents have been used to for decades. However, in reading the fine print, (and in the print left on warning tickets for those who didn’t know or didn’t comply last fall), leaf-rakers found that the increase in service came with an important difference: now they had to pile their leaves into reuseable containers or brown bags in order to have them collected.

A newspaper letter writer was dubious about the change, speculating with a tongue-in-cheek comment that the city’s vacuum truck broke down and the policy was to avoid replacing it!

City personnel explained in a press release that the new policy is for “pollution prevention. EPA’s Phase II Municipal separate storm sewer system permit requires good housekeeping.” . But this is not the kind of pollution that would typically think come from street sweepings (cigarette butts, glass, trash and road grit). That’s actually less than 1% of the volume of contaminants, according to the city streets and sanitation department.

No, the more troubling problem is the leaves themselves, when they are swept in massive piles to the curb. Why? “They clog infrastructure including swales, pipes and inlets,” the release notes, increasing the risk of flooding. Think about it—and the crazy storms that flooded North Frederick and the area surrounding the YMCA; and that nearly swept away the Town of Ellicott City twice. Many of these flooding and severe weather incidents, attributed to the increasing impact of climate change, are causing major headaches for homeowners, road and infrastructure planners, and politicians trying to figure out how to lessen their damage. We’re not the only city dealing with this issue: see http://cleanbayous.org/debris-can-clog-storm-drains-2/.

Next time you hear someone complain they can no longer sweep their leaves into city streets where they end up clogging storm drains (and eventually adding sediment to Carroll Creek and the Monocacy River) remind them of the increasing number of “freak” storms and the help they are providing their fellow citizens by bagging their leaves. And if that doesn’t work, just remind them of the flooded YMCA and Ellicott City. That should help them to understand.

 

 

Urban Gardening and Help for Hungry People/Food Deserts

A Hood College grant program was celebrated recently for tackling the problem of hunger — also called “food insecurity” — in Frederick County. The program, in its first year and housed under the Center for Coastal & Watershed Studies — seeks to link sponsors and volunteers who help plant and harvest urban gardens with the areas of the county that need them.

Connie Ray, who has coordinated the program, spoke to a recent dinner celebration of the program.

Connie Ray, Food Security Network

Facts Noted at the event:

In Frederick, even though the median income is $90,000, 8% of residents live in poverty and 40% of residents who are not in poverty struggle to provide child care, put food on the table, and pay rent (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed-ALICE).

Emmitsburg, Libertytown, Thurmont, Brunswick and certain areas of Frederick City also fall into the ALICE category.

460 households in the City of Frederick are in what is called a food desert, a geographic area where it is difficult to find quality, fresh food.

This year, they grew 1,500 lbs. of produce that served 400 families in Frederick through their garden partners and volunteer network.

Information about Community Gardens where they are working: click here.

Frederick News Post Article on the program: click here.

A bountiful harvest in areas of Frederick County hungry for fresh produce is a goal of the Food Security Network.

The Christmas Tree Shopping dilemma

The Christmas Tree Shopping dilemma

Every year at this time we scope out whats being said about real vs. artificial Christmas trees, and while Green Frederick leans towards buying a re-plantable LOCAL real Christmas tree, there are considerations.

Take a look at Earth 911’s assessment here, with some key excerpts below:

Artificial Tree Pros:

  • Reuseability
  • Cost effectiveness

Artificial Tree Cons:

Artificial trees are typically manufactured with metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a non-biodegradable, petroleum-derived plastic. In addition, many older varieties may contain lead, used as a stabilizer in the manufacturing process.

Despite their PVC contents, artificial trees are nonrecyclable and nonbiodegradable, meaning they will sit in a landfill for

An artificial tree from the authors living room.

centuries after disposal. An artificial tree will last on average five to seven years, meaning you’ll eventually have to dispose of it, and many secondhand stores will not accept them. There’s also no guarantee the LED lights will last the whole time you own it, and they can’t be removed and replaced like with a real tree.

Decorating a tree from Dreamland Christmas Tree farm, Jefferson, MD

Furthermore, approximately 85 percent of artificial trees sold in the U.S. are imported from  China, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), adding to their overall environmental footprint.

Approximately 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in North America each year, according to the U.S. EPA. Luckily, about 93 percent of those trees are recycled through more than 4,000 available recycling programs.

Real Christmas Tree Cons:

  • Cost: Spending $40-$70 every year is not a cheap alternative.
  • Landfilling/incineration: if not recycled into mulch/compost, real trees add to our global disposal burden.

Other considerations from Earth911:

Real Christmas trees, they are farmed as agricultural products, meaning repeated applications of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers may be used throughout their lifetime.

Emmitsburg Nuns Prioritize People AND the Planet

Three cheers to the North County Daughters of Charity!

They combined their order’s mission of serving the disadvantaged with their goal of stewardship of the earth—all in one project, the Seton Center.

The Seton Center, a community center providing job training and preparation, dental services, a secondhand store and community meeting space among other services, opened its new building this year as a sustainable project featuring:
*permeable pavers
*solar panels
*energy conservation measures
*low-flow toilets and other water conservation resources

The building houses eight office where 11 staff members work, as well as space for social services and job training agencies who need a meeting place in the North County to meet.

Permeable pavers are made of porous material and drain rainwater quickly after it hits the parking lot, feeding it into the ground rather than washing into storm sewers.

Sister Martha and the staff can continuously monitor energy useage (or lack thereof!) in these meters.

 

The Seton Center encourages employees and patrons to bring reuseable bottles that can be filled easily at the fountain.

The Center began in 1969 at its building outside of town—a building that was only supposed to last 10 years, but lasted until 2017. A new center was needed to replace the deteriorating steel structure, and the order decided to use a piece of the property originally left to them in 1809 by Elizabeth Ann Seton, rather than go through an annexation process on the old county land.
They decided from the get-go to go green.

“Its in the mission of the daughters of Charity to care for the earth,” said Sister Martha Beaudoin, executive director of the Seton Center. The religious order around the world is 16000 strong, with presence in 93 countries, and is known for projects such as digging wells and working on clean water. “This project goes with what the sisters have done in the other countries.”

The sisters have also watched the sustainability achievements of Mayor Don Briggs and the Emmitsburg town staff, and wanted to get on board with their own facility!

They instructed Morgan-Keller, the general contractor, and their architect, Scott Bowen of Washington County, to find cost-effective, sustainable solutions, and felt that they did good work in bringing the building in on budget with its sustainable elements.
And its working – Sister Martha says even with the larger (13,000 square foot), and differently shaped building, “The electric bill used to be $1,300 a month; now its $800 a month!”

Natural light and low-energy lighting filters into the Seton Center’s new store.