Do you have a compost story? If you compost or have composted, I would bet you do. And I’ll bet it’s not always a pretty journey… but it is a truly important one. Because, whether we acknowledge or not, we humans are an integral part of nature. And composting is just one way to replenish our soils, reduce greenhouse gasses and promote healthy food systems. In fact, according to the UN environment programme, “food loss and waste generate an estimated 8-10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.”
Your neighbor, Carolyn, has a compost story. Carolyn and her husband who live in Ann Arbor are working parents of 3 kids, elementary through high school, so to say their lives are hectic is an understatement. Here is Carolyn’s story:
We started composting probably six or seven years ago, stopped for a couple of years, and started up again. I think we’ve been composting probably for about four years now. We started up again because a neighbor told me that food waste doesn’t decompose in landfills*, and that if you put food waste down your disposal (which is mostly what we used to do), it creates a sludge that has to be treated by the wastewater treatment plant. My reaction to that information was that we should give composting another try. The idea that we could divert some of our waste from the landfill into something beneficial was appealing.
At first we used the very nice composting container and bags provided by the city. The container turned out to be too big for our needs and the bags would start to decompose before we needed to empty the container. It was also just kind of big to sit on the counter and we don’t have a huge kitchen so there wasn’t another good place to put it out of the way. The result was gross puddles of rotting food that smelled and dripped all over when we tried to remove the bag. We gave up after a few months of that.
Now we use a small IKEA plastic container. We compost all our food waste, including table scraps, as well as paper products like tea bags, food-soiled napkins, paper towels, and pizza boxes. I was amazed when I learned that all of that could be composted! We even compost our undyed cellulose sponges from Trader Joe’s. Sometimes if I’m cooking a lot I have to empty our container more than once a day, but usually once a day is enough. We leave it on our counter, with a lid during fruit fly season, and it never smells. Every couple of days we run the container through the dishwasher. We have the city compost cart right outside our back door so it’s easy to empty the small container. I have to say the compost cart can get pretty gross, but with the lid closed the smell isn’t an issue, even very close to the house. I’ve heard you can layer newspaper in there but we’ve never bothered.
We try to use rags and towels instead of paper towels for cleaning; reusable containers for food storage, lunches, and drinks; and reusable shopping bags. I don’t think we are necessarily some amazing zero waste family but we do try to reduce and we definitely recycle.
Thank you, Carolyn! You ARE an amazing zero waste family! Thank you for all you do.
Here are some tips and factoids to get you started on your zero waste journey:
*When your food waste goes to the landfill in your garbage bags, the food breaks down from anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition. The byproduct of that is METHANE. Methane (CH4) has a greater impact over the short term on global warming. If you send your food waste to a composting location (the city, your yard, or a local garden), the food breaks through aerobic decomposition, the buy-product is CO2. Some of the organic carbon will get into the soil to be available for the soil microbes and the rest into CO2, to be available for plants to make into sugars to grow. And the CO2 that goes into the atmosphere during this natural process will have less of an impact on global warming than the methane.
City Compost – The city will take your meat and dairy food waste as well! While it’s not advisable to compost animal-based food waste at home, the city is equipped to do so. To be composted safely, animal-based food must be composted at a minimum temperature over a minimum amount of time. But this is good news for carnivores and vegetarians who cook with dairy and meat!
If you live in a home: You can pick up a composting container from the city and they will pick up weekly on the day of your trash pick up. (Composting pick up in Ann Arbor is weekly April to December, and monthly December to March – which was recently expanded to year-round thanks to the passing of the millage this fall – way to go, Ann Arbor!) To keep smell and bug activity down, layer newspapers or leaves between food stacks.
If you live in an apartment: Composting can be hard! Put your food waste in the freezer and drop it at the composting facility in town. Even better – send a message out to your neighbors and start a program to rotate collection and drop off in your building! Do it as a community!