Zero Waste Challenge Day 9: Compost
Food waste has been gaining lots of attention in our society. Why? Because we waste a lot. And I mean a lot. In the United States, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted - equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month.
There is a lot we can do to eliminate food waste. First, eat the food you buy, buy only what you need, preplan meals, and be more resourceful with your meal planning. And even after we've done all of that, there will still be some food waste in the form of scraps and the occasional forgotten item that went bad before usage.
The food scrapes we toss in our trash cans head straight to the landfill. This isn't a good idea. Landfills are not a big composter, they are essentially a big tomb. Landfills produce a gas called methane, because landfills don't receive oxygen. It does this by experiencing anaerobic decomposition.
When we add our food waste to a compost pile a different kind of interaction happens. Our waste in a compost becomes exposed to oxygen, from worms, other living organisms, or by rotating it. This produces CO2 (carbon dioxide), not methane. This process is called aerobic decomposition.
"Organics that break down in a landfill produce methane gas, which is about 120 times more harmful than carbon dioxide," says Cary Oshins, assistant director for programs at the United States Composting Council, in Ronkonkoma, New York.
What is composting?
Think of composting as nature's natural cycle of zero waste. Breaking down decomposed organic materials into rich soil. By doing this, you're returning nutrients back into the earth in order for the circle of life to continue. There are a few ways you can start a compost (even without a backyard), here are a few solutions:
Vermicomposting is the process of composting using worms. The most common worms used in vermicomposting are red wigglers. To put things simply, the worms eat the food scraps and poop out the compost called vermicast. This is the method I used when I had no yard and not other options. People often worry about smell with indoor (and outdoor) composts. But you have to remember, there is a little science involved in this process. You never want to over fill your compost, too wet, too dry, etc. And since worms are doing a majority of the composting action you don't want to overfeed them. What they can't eat will rot and smell.
Community Compost Sharing / Compost Pick-up
Does your local farmer's market, natural market, neighbor, or even a community garden have a compost you can share? Compost pick-up is also growing in popularity as well. Check out the Compost Peddler's website to see what I mean:
Good Old Back Yard Composting
If you have a small backyard, consider setting up a system. Here is a great resource for starting your own backyard composting system: http://www.ecocycle.org/backyard-composting
What to Compost:
- veggie scraps
- fruit scraps
- plant material (ask your local facilities about yard waste!)
- paper (untreated - no receipts!)
- egg shells *some commercial composting facilities will except some meat/cheeses, check with your local compost center first!
Many foodservice paper products are lined with petroleum-based plastics that contaminate our soils when composted! Only compost if it's a certified compostable "plastic".
These labels DO NOT mean compostable:
- Made from plants
- Made from plant starch
- Made with recycled content
Don't put commercial compostable items (straws, utensils, cups, containers) in your home compost. They are not designed to breakdown in your home unit. They actually hardly break down in commercial facilities.
How to Store your Compost!
This is VERY important! Do not put your compost scraps in plastic bags! I repeat. Do not put your compost scraps in plastic bags! Especially if you have curbside composting in your area. It makes it a lot of work to pick through the compost and rid them of plastic bags.
If you have to wait to bring your compost somewhere (like a local farm, neighbors, or community garden), you can store you compost a few ways.
- Use a certified compostable liner to store your scrapes in for delivery.
- Bowl in the freezer: we use this option if we run out of compost bag liners
- Compost counter container
More Compost Resources
CompoKeeper - This is my favorite system for my home. It keeps our food scraps in a simple, contained, and smell free bin. It's easy to clean too. And when the compostable liner is full we toss it in our cities curbside composting bin to wheel out to the curb every other week! It's a great system for the office too! Check them out!