Let's Talk Compost
By Haley Norris
Before dialing into the low-waste movement, I had previously heard the word “compost” in reference to farmers or avid gardeners, specifically my father planning how he was going to layer compost with peet in the garden. Last year, I started becoming more conscious about my purchasing practices and how those decisions affected the world around me. Knowing that as a budget-oriented college student I could not do expensive changes, I started looking into free or low-cost changes. This led me down the slippery slope of greenwashing, biodegradable, and certified compostable. These are labels you may have seen either on your favorite products or articles about companies faking their sustainability practices cause unfortunately that happens a lot. Goodsmartpackaging.com defines compost as, “ capable of disintegrating into natural elements in a compost environment, leaving no toxicity in the soil. This typically must occur in about 90 days.”
Did you know that food does not naturally decompose in landfills?
Apparently, food or organic matter needs oxygen to break down and return their nutrients to the Earth. Landfills are unfortunately anaerobic environments meaning that they do not have oxygen. Not only will they not decompose but they will off-gas methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas, a gas that goes into the atmosphere and traps heat slowly broiling our glaciers. The issue is our food scraps are being trapped in plastic sacks and buried under more plastic because food decomposes easily when deposited in compost.
If you search “how to compost” on Google or Pinterest, you may be overwhelmed by talk of green layers and brown layers. The author of The New Gardener’s Handbook told the NY Times that, “Green is shorthand for nitrogen-rich materials like fresh grass clippings or the lettuce plants about to bolt. Brown represents those higher in carbon, like dried leaves or twiggy prunings.” So basically you layer food and non-food in a compost pile. However, there is definitely room for a misadventure. My first attempt went horribly wrong and ended with my trash can turned compost bin flooding with water and my father courageously dumping it for me, then providing me with the knowledge on using chicken wire and metal posts to create a cage for my compost.
There is also a privilege involved in being able to compost, the cost of a proper rotating compost bin, or the space of a yard. Fortunately, if you live in a city, food retailers have additional resources. If you want to start composting but do not have the money, time, or space, the easiest way is to store your food scraps/unused leftovers in a sealed container in your fridge then bringing it somewhere else. Places like Whole Foods have composting available FOR FREE to the public. I know my local co-op grocery store does as well. Some cities also offer compost pick up adjacent to trash and recycling. Have a gardener friend? See if they would like it.
Composting your food scraps is a great, low cost, low effort way to help the environment and so is voting! Read candidate platforms and make informed decisions on who will put our planet’s health above corporate payouts. Remember we only have one planet!