Day 26: Compost
Today’s action: Making magic with your food scraps
Today’s action is to find a way to compost any of your remaining food waste (after reducing what you can!), as well as your yard waste. Like so many of our actions, you’ve got some options:
Your city may offer curbside pickup programs for food scraps and yard waste.
In the US, it’s probably not surprising that composting curbside pickup programs are offered by cities such as San Francisco, Portland, Boulder, Denver, and Seattle.
But you may be surprised to find that even your city offers a curbside program for at least part of the year. It’s worth checking quickly (search your town’s website or make a call, to 311 or your local municipal number). For example, some cities and towns offer seasonal “ridealong” programs that collect food scraps along with yard waste (even Kaitlin's hometown, DeKalb, IL!). Oh, and speaking of yard waste: don’t throw it away! You can leave fall leaves on your lawn, and compost the rest.
You may have drop-off or sharing options.
Some cities, farmers’ markets, or other institutions offer drop-off programs for food scraps. (For example, here are places in NYC and Chicago.) A quick Internet search can help you check. If you go this route, you can save your food scraps in the freezer until you're ready to drop them off.
You can check ShareWaste to see if anyone near you is willing to take your scraps to compost or use as animal feed.
If you have a backyard, you can DIY!
One way is to throw your scraps directly on the ground! (More detailed guidance here and in the lazy gardener’s guide to composting.)
Or you can trench compost (more pit tips here.)
If you’re worried about attracting animals, you can use a pest-resistant composting bin. You can buy one or, if you want to avoid new plastic products, you can make a DIY version with a used food-grade 55-gallon drum (you can ask for one from a food processing plant, or look for one on Craigslist).
If you want to compost inside, you can try:
The cardboard box method. Cheap and odorless. (More background here.)
Bokashi composting. Ferment food scraps indoors, and then bury the product outdoors.
Vermicomposting. Make worms your next pet?! Kids love this, and it's a great way to get them involved!
If you don’t mind paying, hire a composting service. Super simple: collect your scraps in the provided bucket, and schedule pickups to swap your full bucket for a clean one. (Chicago friends: Kaitlin uses this service and loves it.)
Hopefully that’s something for everyone! Not sure what to compost? See our tips in the “looking for more” section below.
Why this action? While we need to first reduce food waste, some food scraps are inevitable.* But when food scraps and organic matter are tossed in the landfill, they break down and release methane, that super potent greenhouse gas we’ve discussed and are trying to avoid. If food scraps are instead composted, they can help sequester carbon while also creating nutrients that improve our soil. In other words, composting helps address the climate crisis as well as the global soil crisis. Magical, right?!
*When we first wrote this, we added “(you’re not eating your avocado pits, are you??)” But we checked and apparently some people do eat them! We swapped it for “coffee grounds,” but it seems there are people out there who eat those too?! (Or use them for body scrubs.) We then tried “eggshells” and “banana peels,” but struck out again and gave up (but are happy to hear that some people are able to achieve zero food waste!). You get our point, though. There are probably some food scraps that your household will never eat, and that’s okay. And we can at least be pretty sure that none of you out there are eating your greasy pizza boxes--which ARE compostable!
Looking for more? Read on for more tips, info, and actions related to composting.
Tips on what you can compost:
What you can compost depends on the method you’re using, so when in doubt, do your homework.
Most composting methods let you compost yard waste and most food scraps, except excessive oils, dairy, and bones. Commercial composting generally allows you to compost dairy and bones, too, as well as commercial-grade compostable products.
Beware of “biodegradable” labels–that doesn’t mean “compostable”!
Learn and reflect:
We mentioned the global soil crisis. Haven’t heard of it? Don’t care about dirt? If you want to learn more about why soil is so important, here’s a 4 ½ -min video on why soil is one of the most amazing things on Earth.
If you’re composting at home or as part of an organization and have capacity for more food scraps, you could offer to take other waste via ShareWaste.
If you’ve discovered a little-known ridealong composting program offered by your city, why not share that info with your friends and neighbors so they can participate, too?
If you’re now a fervent compost fan, how about encouraging others to compost too? You could start with your friends, but also consider asking your workplace, local schools, restaurants you frequent, and other institutions that might be throwing away large amounts of food scraps.
A few states already require that food waste be diverted from landfills; California is the most recent state to mandate this (with plans to turn waste into compost and into renewable energy!). If your state isn't one of them, this could be a good request to make to your state representatives!