For the love of compost

Upon setting the goal for ourselves of creating less waste in 2016, Alex and I promptly started composting. Honestly, I am not sure why we waited so long to begin with. We cook with so many vegetables that there were always raw vegetable scraps going into our trash can, but for some reason we didn’t think much of it until all of a sudden we did. After making the decision, it was a pretty easy process…

Step 1 – Decide to compost

This part is pretty easy. In our case, it was brought on by our goal to reduce our waste and be more environmentally conscious. Most of us don’t realize how much of our trash can is filled up with useable food waste until we start composting. Since beginning our compost bin in January, Alex and I find we take the trash out significantly less often. Between our compost bin and our recycling bin, there is considerably less trash in our can. Meanwhile, we empty our compost bin once a week and we find it fills up really fast! Sometimes it is even overflowing by the time we empty it. Cucumber & citrus peels, the tops of zucchini, the innards of bell peppers, the skin of avocados, the leafy part of carrots, etc. All of that can go into the bin and if you’re like us – you’ll be much more aware of how much food waste you actually produce!

Since deciding to compost, I have read Philip Ackerman-Leist’s book, Rebuilding the Foodshed. In his book, he talks about the destructive and unsustainable practice of mining for minerals to use in fertilizers. He talks about the need for alternative sources of minerals and highlights the importance and virtues of composting within organic and local food production.

Compost brings to the soil numerous benefits compared to synthetic fertilizers: minimal nutrient runoff, enhanced nutrient retention, increased absorptive capacity, superior drought tolerance, improved biological diversity, and better structure. For our purposes, one other benefit stands out: compost can be locally produced under local control with local dollars, creating local jobs and local resilience. Next to good food, I cannot imagine anything that has more potential to bring together bleeding-heart liberals and die-hard conservatives than locally generated compost…There’s something for (and from) everyone in compost!

You hear that? There’s something for everyone in compost, so get your sh*t together and make a decision to save your scraps!

Step 2 – Get a bin you can put food scraps in!

Composting is somewhat popular these days so it is easy to find compost bins online, with some trendy options from Etsy, World Market, etc. OR you can go the route that Alex and I went and head to your local Goodwill. We searched through their homewares section, finding a jackpot compost bin for $1.50. We have determined that it is most likely an old ice bucket – complete with a handle and a snug fitting lid. (See below!)

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A handle and a lid is important so you can transport your compost easily to wherever you decide to use it. The lid should be easy to remove so you can do it one-handed while holding your food scraps in the other. The lid will also keep fruit flies away and can trap any odors in there!

Step 3 – Find a place that can use your composted food waste for good!

Most likely, there are gardens or environmental organizations near you that have a composting program and would LOVE to have your food scraps. It may take a little digging at first, but I am sure you can find some. In my area, there is Occidental College which has a college garden and composting program run by students. There is also Debs Park which has a native nursery and a composting bin – which is where Alex works and where we take our compost to once a week.

Can’t find a nearby garden that can put your food scraps to waste? In Los Angeles, you can put raw food scraps in the Green Bin! Don’t put any animal products in there, but your fruit and veggie scraps will be combined with lawn waste from other people’s bins and then used in a variety of ways – including donations to local gardens or organizations that need compost!

The importance of compost

If we want to build sustainable food systems, compost is going to be a key ingredient. Mining minerals for fertilizers is not going to be an option forever. According to Ackerman-Leist, the US has “only about another twenty to twenty-five years of available phosphorus within our borders” and other countries are protecting their domestic sources of phosphorus with high tariffs due to its extreme importance in agriculture and crop yield.

Compost is a way in which we are able to recover energy from our food by using the decaying matter to enrich our soil and improve crop production. Hopefully, increasing the amount of compost available (in addition to looking for ways to sanitize and use natural sources of phosphorus like human waste) can help build a more sustainable and resilient food system!

Most frequently asked Compost Q:

Does it smell up your kitchen and look gross?

No. Limit your compost to just raw vegetable matter and it will not be a gross experience at all. We do not put any animal products in there (no egg shells or anything), and honestly – it usually smells like orange peel or coffee grounds. Nothing nasty or particularly gross there. If you go a longer time than usual without emptying it, things will get a little moldy, but that’s good! That breakdown and decay is what feeds soil vital nutrients. And in any case, that’s why you get a bin with a tight fitting lid!

Get on it – and start composting! 🙂

 

 

 

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Earth Day on the Daily

Today is Earth Day! Today is a day when many people spend time outdoors, volunteer for environmental projects, or simply take time to honor our planet with thoughts. In my morning yoga class, we focused on grounding ourselves – sending energy to our legs and feet with our breath and poses. My legs certainly feel grounded now…they’re hard to lift because they’re so tired!

Earth Day has become a day for environmental activism – providing a platform to elevate concerns and wishes for our treatment of the planet. But let’s not allow our concerns and conversations about the environment halt after today – there are plenty of things we can do and think about on the daily to ensure we are better stewards of the planet.

While in a college class about the History of Environmentalism, I learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – an island the size of Texas, completely made of plastic, chemical sludge and debris. It urged me to write an essay about the need to reduce our material consumption throughout our society in order to properly address our problems with waste. (Perhaps a post for another day).

It also urged me to be more conscious of my consumption of plastic waste that is unnecessary. Two easy things you and I can do to reduce plastic consumption?

  1. Buy a reusable To-Go mug and never leave home without it 
  2. Bring reusable bags with you everywhere you go

My hope is that this is not new to most people. In the state of California, plastic bags are banned in all grocery stores and paper bags cost 10 cents. I see more and more shoppers coming prepared with bags and more people in line at coffee shops with their own mugs and tumblers. What a relief! It’s catching on.

Alex and I always bring our own bags to the store. We never head to the market without our totes and we’re pretty good about stocking our cars with extras in case we make an impromptu run for groceries.

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Yet, we wanted to take it a step further. In January, we decided to avoid produce wrapped in plastic. It kills me when vegetables are unnecessarily wrapped in plastic – TRADER JOE’s…cucumbers don’t need to be shrink wrapped!!!!! And while we had grumbled about it for a long time, we never really did anything about it until…We went online and ordered mesh produce bags – amazing! And so easy to do.

Since buying our mesh baggies, we have been careful to buy vegetables from Von’s or Farmer’s Markets where we can more easily avoid plastic wrappers. It’s still sometimes difficult. It’s especially tricky when the organic produce is wrapped in plastic and the conventional produce isn’t. I never know which to choose – pesticides in the soil/water/my body OR plastic in the landfill/ocean! (Any thoughts on which is the better choice? Will research this and get back to you.)

So, think twice when in the produce aisle and make decisions with the planet in mind! Be sure to take your cup when you go to get your iced chai and don’t leave home without your bags (or baskets!). ❤ #environmentalistonabudget

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Homemade = Less Money & Less Waste

My biggest pet peeve? Folks who complain about being broke but who also buy lunch every day…C’mon people! Buying groceries and then preparing meals at home is definitely the way to go.

In addition to being cheaper (and healthier), making food at home produces less waste than restaurants do when cooking for the public. Its that easy! Make the environmentally conscious decision to cook at home as much as possible.

Think about it:

  • Food waste – this is a big one! It is easier to predict the amount of food needed to feed your household than it is to predict customer demand in a restaurant. Food waste is a huge problem at restaurants due to miscalculating demand, large unfinished portions, etc. If you miscalculate the food needed at home, you can put the leftovers in the fridge, stored in a reusable tupperware for lunch the next day!
  • Food production/storage waste – when you cook at home you have control of how much disposable food storage you use. When you eat out, you have no idea how much plastic wrap, styrofoam containers, and other disposable packaging they use and throw away.
  • Disposable napkins, plates, utensils – this is more applicable to fast food or take out, but think about how often you bring leftovers home from a restaurant in a disposable container!
  • Restaurant energy consumption to refrigerate, air condition, heat, light up the establishment is significantly higher than your home energy consumption – do not take this lightly! Energy consumption is actually a huge deal when it comes to storing, preparing, and cooking food!

Note: Alex and I go out to a meal once or twice a week. We recognize that eating out is a social activity and can be exactly what you want after a long week at work! Treat yourself – because that’s important too. But, let’s be honest – eating out for a meal everyday is bad for your wallet, your health, and the planet.

So Environmentalism on a Budget Lesson #1? Cook at home – save money, save the world.

Environmentalist on a Budget

It’s easy to care about the wellbeing of the environment, but much harder to ensure your actions reflect your words. Even more so when you’re on a tight budget.Yet, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your ecological footprint and contribute to altering our society’s treatment of the planet. Alex and I were recently inspired by a woman who has produced less than 1 mason jar filled with trash in two years….have you seen the video? If not, go watch it now.

Let’s be clear…Alex and I are not setting that lofty a goal for ourselves, its all about baby steps! But that video did help us realize that there are a lot more things we can be doing. It helped inspire us to make even more of an effort to be environmentally conscious by changing little things in our daily routines and living practices.

We’re recent college graduates. I work for a nonprofit and Alex is an intern with the National Parks Service while he applies to graduate school. AKA we are not rolling in cash. But we are determined to do what we can with what we have!

Interested in reducing your ecological footprint and making more environmentally friendly decisions? If we can do it, so can you! The first step is simply being conscious of wanting to be more environmentally friendly and keep this in mind throughout the day when making decisions and going about your routine.

Next step? Follow emiesfoodforthought and keep your eyes out for my frequent posts with tips & recommendations for making small changes with big impacts.