January 30, 2007

Composting Food Doesn't Have to Be Gross

compost your food scrapsI am lucky to live in one of the greenest cities in the U.S. (San Francisco). I can recycle almost all of my waste, find organic foods within walking distance and take public transportation (however scummy) almost anywhere I need to. But until this week, I was passing up a huge opportunity to reduce my waste even more.

Just like many of my neighbors, my kitchen is quite small. In fact, until recently we didn't even have counters (actually, does the single square foot of granite next to our stove count?). This fact kept me from feeling too guilty about not composting my food scraps. But the other thing our kitchen lacks is a garbage disposal, which means all of our food scraps get scraped into a trash bag. And then, of course, the trash bag goes into the landfill. So what's a conscientious girl to do?

Composting would require too much floor space (for a composting can), too much smell (we'd have to save a whole lot of compost before it was worth a trip to drop it off), and too much time (we'd have to find a place that accepts compost materials, load up the car and deliver it). And then our city came to the rescue. Actually, San Francisco has been offering composting services for some time now, through it's waste removal contractor, Sunset Scavenger. But stupid me didn't realize it until our upstairs neighbors dragged the big green can outside one day.

As soon as I saw that green can sitting there next to the blue recycling bin and the black waste can, I began thinking about how much of our daily trash is made up of food scraps. There's the coffee grounds and filter I throw out every morning, the waste from prepping dinner every night (you know: carrot peels, zucchini tops, rinds from Parmesan cheese...what can I say, I like to cook), and the inevitable old leftovers that occasionally turn my fridge into a science experiment.

composted material turns into useful garden fertilizerIt turns out that finding a new and useful home for all that waste isn't as difficult—or as dirty—as I thought it would be. I simply used an empty cardboard milk carton to store the scraps, which is great for two reasons: it's small enough so that it doesn't take up any space, and I can keep it in the fridge, which cuts down on the smell. Once it's full (about 5 days later it's still got room), I can just drop the whole thing in the big green can. No muss, no fuss, no smell, and no need for a giant pile of rotting food in the garden that I don't even have.

But what if your city doesn't provide you with big green composting cans? A quick Google search (just enter your city and "composting program") turns up all sorts of options. And if you still can't find a local program, you can always try these options:
  • If you have a garden, use it: You can make your own compost pile or purchase composting bins to fertilize your own garden (it's cheap, safe and easy).
  • Give to another gardener: Neighbors, community gardening groups and local farmers might all be grateful to receive your scraps.
  • Give it to a commercial composter: Many cities are home to commercial composting facilities, who will be more than happy to take your waste. Again, a great time for a Google search.
Ultimately, composting can be as easy or as involved as you want it to be. And since about 35% of all municipal waste in the U.S. is made up of food scraps (that's about 26 million tons!), it's a great way to reduce your impact.

Further reading:
A Complete Guide to Composting
How to Compost
Composting 101
Journey to Forever's Compost Pages

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3 Comment(s)

Blogger McFloyd said...

Hope it does not sound snobbish but I always wonder how it took so long to discover all that green stuff for the US.

Recycling, gardening or composting is practiced since decades in Europe! (ok, it sounds snobbish) ... Even my grandparents had a compost.

But anyway: it is very nice to see the momentum of the green movement which is much bigger than in the old world.

12:37 AM  
Blogger Jessie Jane said...

Not snobbish at all—in fact, even here in the US a lot of this stuff had been done by previous generations, then as mass culture took hold our priorities turned elsewhere.

It's interesting that nowadays—at least in the US—organic foods, composting, etc. are seen as activities that tend to be done by those with more money/time on their hands. Whereas back in the day, it was those who were trying to save money by not having to buy new stuff (and maximizing their self-sufficiency) who were doing this kind of thing.

Now that it's "cheaper" to just toss things and buy new ones, it's the manufacturing industries that we need to lean on to start conserving and recycling.

Sorry for the tangent, but you got me thinking...

Thanks for reading!

11:57 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Another option for composting is vermiculture (worm composting). I don't have much of a composting program where I live, so my boyfriend and I bought a worm bin. We fill it with organic veggie scraps, wilted greens, banana peels, etc. and the worms turn it into soil and worm castings (the best fertilizer ever!) in just a few months. We have a small sealed bin in the kitchen, and it doesn't smell at all. And damn are those some well-fed worms, although they're a bit picky (they won't eat anything too spicy or oily like onions or hot peppers - so we have another small compost pile outside for these things).

Just thought I'd mention another alternative. Worms are natural composters, so they can turn scraps to fertilizer much faster than the natural composting process. Plus, it's like having an extra 1,000 or so pets that are really easy to take care of. They're quite cute once you get used to them... :)

9:04 AM  

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