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!)
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! 🙂