Tossing an empty water bottle or discarded newspaper into a recycling bin seems like a relatively painless way to reduce our carbon footprints and assuage our guilt about the irreversible damage that’s already been done to our earth and its atmosphere. But can more be done?
In 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 85.1 million tons of garbage were saved from the landfill due to recycling and composting; this is over five times more garbage than was reused in 1980, when only 15 million tons were recycled/composted.
Although organic wastes like eggshells, coffee grounds and fur cannot be put into the bin for weekly pickup, they can be reused for a different purpose: to make compost. This compost, in turn, can be spread in the garden or utilized as potting soil for indoor plants.
Making a compost pile is a bit of a science. Ideally, the pile would contain a balanced mixture of “brown”—materials like dead leaves, branches and twigs that provide carbon—; “green”—grass clippings, coffee grounds and fruit scraps that provide nitrogen—and water, which helps break down organic matter. Presumably, the more ideal the balance, the more nutrient-rich the ensuing compost.
The EPA has a detailed step-by-step process on their website for how to start both indoor and outdoor composting piles which includes a list of items not to put in your pile (unless you welcome the imminent arrival of rats and large, black flies at your doorstep). Items not suitable for compost include animal waste, meat and dairy products.
For those that prefer in-person instruction, the Sheldrake Environmental Center will be offering a “Composting 101” class on Oct. 27 at 9 a.m. to teach the basics of backyard composting. The cost for the class—which will be held at the Environmental Center—is $85, which includes an Earth Machine bin.
“They will learn how and where to set up the bin; what goes in; how to maintain it and the best part, which is when and how to harvest the nutrient-rich compost to use in your garden,” said Holly Moskow, executive director of the Environmental Center.
The bin can hold both yard waste and food scraps and can be set up outdoors.
“This a great time of year to start a bin because of all the carbon rich leaves which provide a nice base in which to add your food scraps,” said Moskow.
But, perhaps more persuasively, is the chance to keep more of your garbage away from the landfill.
“The U.S. EPA estimates that 27 percent of our solid waste stream is compostable – that is a huge amount of garbage being trucked away that could instead be turned into beneficial compost right in your back yard,” said Moskow.