Composting for ALL

These days, hopefully we are wasting less food since we are forced to be more mindful shoppers and meal planners. As we’ve slowed down, I’ve noticed that more home food preparation raises awareness around food waste and waste in general. Especially since municipalities like NYC have discontinued food scrap residential pickup and defunded non-profit organizations organic collections at the Green Markets.

So why compost? Food scraps are not garbage. Organic waste is a valuable resource that once composted, goes back into the earth as a nutrient rich soil amendment – making soil less dependent on chemical fertilizers while increasing soil water retention. Globally, it is estimated that we have appoximately 60 years of viable topsoil left for farming. A combination of short-sighted industrial farming techniques, over farming, extreme heat and drought, and flooding has left soil’s ability to sustain us seriously threatened.

The other equally important reason to divert food waste from our landfill bound waste is global warming. Rotting organic material makes landfills the third largest methane producer in the US. Methane is a greenhouse gas 28-36 times more potently heat producing in our environment than CO2.

In nature waste doesn’t exist. Everything is food for life. That’s the technology we need to embrace. This is our window in the next 5-10 years to create a culture change around composting our organic waste.

-Lauren Turk, Social Innovation, Strategy, Research for Fero Zero 

Luckily there is a compost solution for nearly every living situation. You may try one and find it’s not the right fit, but don’t be discouraged. Try another until you find one that works best for you. (these systems are for ‘greens & browns’ only. No meat, diary, proteins, oils or nuts – with the exception of the Bokashi system)

Worm Bins

Worm Factory Composting System

Vermiculture bins are essentially stacking trays that accommodate worms and their castings – which make compost. A temperate space, such as under a sink, balcony, or in a closet, is perfectly fine for a worm bin. With the right balance of food scraps, to paper, and moisture, as with any compost system, there should not be a noticeable smell other than earthiness. These tray-based composting systems are perfect for apartment dwellers. The stacking trays have holes allowing the worms to climb up and down. A spigot at the bottom can be opened to release and drain excess fluid. Just add well chopped, fresh scraps to into the top tray and the worms will migrate up to the food. As the trays fill up, the compost can be harvested from the bottom trays with minimal disruption to the worms. Keep in mind that worms are fussy eaters. They don’t enjoy garlic, onions, most citrus, or avocado.

If you have outdoor yard space, you can dig a worm tower or bin right into the earth. Any food-grade bucket or bin drilled with 1/4 or 1/2 inch holes will work. This type of worm compost system is great for gardens as the worms will migrate in and out of the structure to feed and do the fertilizing around the garden themselves. These in-ground systems go dormant in the winter as worms need a balmy 50-77 degrees to be active.

Above Ground Compost Systems

Rapid Blend Easy Composter Tumbler

If worms aren’t your thing, there are many above ground, non-vermiculture systems available. A tumbler is a great option if you have the outdoor space. Even a side yard will do. They come in a few sizes. Since a healthy compost requires aeration (allowing for oxygen to promote the biodegradation process), a tumbler has a handle for easy turning.

You can build your own compost bin easily by drilling, or punching holes into almost any container. These types of compost containers can be aerated with a garden tool or, if not too heavy, rolled on their sides for turning. As with most compost containers, a secure lid is essential.

Old school techniques, like mound piles, slatted bins, contained compost piles, or compost trenches –  digging a 12″ trench or hole to deposit and bury scraps  – are all methods you can use. These require more labor and are less impervious to pests however.

Compost Recipe

1 pt Greens  – nitrogen rich plant based scraps

2 – 3 pt Browns  – carbon agent such as shredded paper & woody material, straw, twigs

Air & Water – unless using worms, compost should be “turned” or aerated at least once a week. Turning 2-3 times a week will speed up the process. Compost should be moist, not soggy. Add browns as needed to control moisture.

No Space for Compost?

Bokashi is a one-bucket, fermenting compost system. It is more expensive to maintain, but mess and odor free. The bucket takes up very little space and can be stored indoors or outdoors. The end product of a Bokashi system is a ‘pre-compost’ that can be discarded into the ground without harm, but is not an actual fertilizer. Because of it’s ‘pickled’ acidity, it needs at least two weeks to integrate with soil or a compost pile before touching roots. The point with a Bokashi system, beyond the streamlined application, is that it takes it ALL. Meat, oils, dairy… all of it.

Which brings me to why industrial composting is so important to any progressive city or community. Industrial composting takes all organic matter. The heat generated is high enough to break down organics quickly and efficiently. Bio-digesters are another option to handle large quantities of organics and animal waste, and produces a bio-fuel that can be used as a heat and energy source.

In a country where food waste clocks in at 80 billion pounds of food per year (30-40% of US food supply), we must take seriously the value of organic waste and make every effort to redirect that waste to solutions that move us forward in a sustainable way. It’s never been more important to identify and vote for representatives that understand this.

So yes! Compost! No matter where you live. My residential organics pickup was shut down, so I found an organic compost farmer willing to take my scraps. I am offering to take my community’s scraps as well in the hope that there will be enough demand to establish a regular pickup from our area. In order to protect our air and water we must participate and insist on sustainable waste solutions for our communities, cities, states, nation….world. Earth.

An Ode To Living On Earth

There has never been more people living on the earth. Using more stuff. And it’s become obvious that many of the old systems that we invented for ourselves are obsolete, and we have to build new ones. As we watch the wheels of industry grind to a halt and the machinery of progress become silent – we have the wildest of opportunities to hit the reset button and take a different path. Here we are on Earth. And life on Earth is a wonderful thing. It looks big, this Earth – but there are lots of us on here. 7 and a half billion at last count, with more showing up everyday. Even so, there is still enough for everyone. If we all share a little. So please, be kind.

 – Oliver Jeffers

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About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have.

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