Want to Compost? Just Move a Mountain!
Something I’ve discovered in my brief but deep dive into making humus—a technical term for what comes out of the compost bin—is that there are far more questions than answers out there when it comes to converting “waste” into plant food. But getting started is simple. All we’ve got to do is move a couple of mountains! (Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it sounds.)
First, we need to reduce¹ the mountain of trash we’re sending to landfills. Second, we need to grow the mountain of beautiful, rich compost that we can create from that first mountain. Too few of us (self included) do a good enough job with that first mountain. That’s in part because we’ve all come to rely on a commercial recycling infrastructure that, of late, has begun to strain at the seams and now faces some real existential challenges. This is not due to any inherent flaw in the way the system is set up, though it’s far from perfect; it is because of the way we all—mostly unwittingly—abuse it.
Reducing Waste = Increasing Wins
I’ll leave the statistical details to my very capable “trashy” colleague, Laura Hernandez, but suffice it to say that we all need to be cleaner and more thoughtful curators of what we put into both the trash and recycling bins. More of that stuff than you’d care to know goes straight to the landfill because folks just don’t understand what can and can’t be reprocessed—or just how clean that item needs to be! And we now need to shift some of the pressure we put onto the system back onto ourselves at the point where that aspirational discard breaks the plane of the bin.
Once we begin to take more care with our personal waste streams, reducing trash takes on a much brighter hue of green—and sense of urgency. Simply put, we just can’t fix today’s broken system without taking a serious swipe at cutting down on what we use, how much of it we use, whether or not we need it (or that much of it) in the first place, and if it’s really “trash” when we’re done with it.
And when it comes to the kitchen, a lot of what you may be throwing away is definitely not trash!
Worming vs. Warming
Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is an easy way to get started tackling the trash mountain. Here’s a fact: there’s a lot of hungry worms out there that would love nothing more than to eat a good portion of your garbage. If you like facts, here’s another one: what worms give you in return for that trash is “brown gold”—a substance so rich in nutrients and other organic compounds that it is a foundational component of a healthy gardening ecosystem, one that can significantly reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizers and other “plant foods.” It’s nature’s recycling! Need more motivation? Composting ties up two key greenhouse gases: CO2 (carbon dioxide) and methane. When you compost food scraps, as well as organic yard waste, leaf litter, coffee grounds, etc., you’re locking carbon into the soil. Moreover, by keeping compostables out of landfills, you are preventing methane, a byproduct of anaerobic decomposition that traps 30 times more heat than CO2, from entering the atmosphere.
Those little piles of food trimmings and leftovers you scrape into the compost pail are starting to look a little more like mountains, aren’t they?
¹Yes, reduce, reuse, and recycle. But keep an eye on our blog! “R4” is on the way: Recycle, Reduce, Refuse, React!—a new model that splits the burden between the end user and the supply side.