By Catherine Moran
You’ve asked, and I’m here to deliver. As I promised in the last issue, I’m discussing composting on this fine Monday. I hope you’re as excited as I am, and, if you aren’t, I’m hoping you will be by the end of this post.
As in, THIS excited:
It’s a long one, so stick with me.
I’d never composted before last summer. There were no composting programs that my family was aware of when I growing up, and it wasn’t something we’d do in the backyard: even burying dead goldfish resulted in the skunks and raccoons digging them up to eat (EW). So, no one really wanted to put smelly food out in our backyard. That would’ve led to a scene out of a horror movie.
What is composting, you ask? It’s when you save your food scraps, which, when given the chance to break down, turn into soil that can be used for gardening, farming, landscaping…and so on. You can read more about how composting works here.
Composting saves millions of tons of food waste from going to the landfill each year (where it combines with toxins from plastics and other waste, turning into toxic sludge). For New Yorkers, it also makes the trash on the sidewalk less toxic to our nostrils: most of those bad smells we walk past every day are the result of rotting food left out in extreme heat and humidity.
Last summer, as part of my CSA, we were required to give some of our time to the CSA, either by distributing food during pickup hours, or, if that wasn’t possible, donating our time in some other way. I decided to spend some time with the Western Queens Compost Initiative, which operates at various farmers markets throughout the year. I’d seen the tent during the summer when I’d go to my local farmers market and summer yoga class, but I didn’t think it’d be the type of thing I’d ever want to do. Store my leftover food somewhere? Yuck!
My friend Sara is a green goddess, and last summer, she and I started talking about splitting a batch of red worms and attempting to compost in our respective apartments. That seemed like a lot of work, and Sara was soon to leave the state, so I veered away from that, and continued to feel bad as food from my weekly box of CSA produce sometimes went to waste when I didn’t eat it fast enough.
The day that I volunteered with WQCI changed everything. I learned a lot about compost; namely, that it’s not gross, and it never has to be, at least for the home user. The way WQCI is set up (and I’d assume it’s the same everywhere else that has composting programs) is so simple: you bring your saved food scraps to the compost location, dump them out into what look like small trash cans, and move on your merry way. Easy as pie! (You can compost pie, FYI.)
“But saving my leftover food sounds smelly,” you say? Ennnhhhhh: incorrect buzzer noise! What I learned during my day of volunteering is that there are various ways to store your food scraps. Some people have stainless steel containers that they keep on their countertops, which, when sealed, emit no smell. Others kept their corn husks and other food scraps that weren’t too pungent in plastic bags in the kitchen. What I found works best for me was something I saw one composter do: I use yogurt containers in my freezer (clearly marked COMPOST so that I don’t accidentally plop some compost in my frying pan). There is absolutely, positively, no smell. Then, on compost collection day, I transfer all of the collected scraps from my yogurt containers, and place them in a plastic bag. I take said bag to the dropoff location (I’m fortunate enough to now have a WQCI tent set up by my subway stop once a week, that I pass on the way to work – it takes me all of two minutes extra to drop off my compost), dump it out, and throw out the bag. That’s it.
What can you compost? These items (taken directly from WQCI’s website):
• fruit scraps (please freeze these for one day before drop off)
• vegetable scraps
• coffee grounds
• tea bags
• dry grains
• fresh leaves and green plants prunings and hedge trimmings
• grass clippings
• flower bouquets
• horse manure
• guinea pig or hamster droppings
• brewery waste (hops and wet grains)
• dry leaves
• dead plants
• dried flowers
• corn cobs
• straw and hay
• chips and sawdust
• food-soiled paper towels and napkins
• shredded paper
• corrugated cardboard
• old potting soil
• egg shells (but NO eggs)
What can’t you compost? (Also taken from WQCI’s website):
• meat and fish scraps
• dairy products
• fats, oils, and grease
• dog and cat waste
• invasive weeds
• weeds with seeds
• diseased plants
• non-organic materials (plastic, metal, glass, etc.)
As you can see, the list for what you can compost is much, much longer than the cannot list. Imagine eliminating all of those things from your trash can!
I love composting, and I will never go back to throwing my trash in the garbage. Composting helps me be green in putting my food back in the earth; it cuts down on the number of trash bags I use, since I am not throwing out a stinky bag full of uneaten food every week; and it, in theory, could one day cut down on the number of garbage trucks that need to be in use, using gasoline to get around an already chemical-laden city.
For those of you who live in suburbs or have a backyard, you can read about backyard composting units and composting at home here.
Still with me? Good on you, readers. Thank you, as always, for reading!
Till next time, greenies!
Adventures in Greening is a column running on Kate-book.com every other Monday at noon. It is written by the very eco-conscious Catherine Moran. Follow Catherine on Twitter @folowbredcrumbs, or check out her excellent book blog.