A woman in her 20s, living in New York City, has generated only enough trash to fit in a mason jar in over two years. Since the average American generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day (3,139 pounds in two years!), you can see why this story has circulated the news outlets in the last few weeks. How is she doing it? One of the main ways she has no waste is through composting. About two-thirds (66 percent) of our household waste can be composted. Sure she is able to drop off her compostable waste at her local market but I’ve got some options for you to join the zero waste or at least less waste revolution.
Compost has a bad reputation. If it’s done right, it doesn’t stink, it’s not a lot of prep work and it’s easy to maintain. There are several ways to compost that fit every lifestyle even if you live in a tiny apartment with no yard. Compost is the process of using bacteria, fungi, worms, and other microorganisms to break up organic waste into a useful nutrient rich soil substance. There are several ways to transform your waste, just choose the one that fits your living situation.
- The pile. That’s right, you can just throw your waste in a pile in your backyard. With a little prep work, use chicken wire to enclose a small area to keep wild animals out. You will have some maintenance with turning your pile at least once a week and don’t expect to get the actual compost soil for about nine months. Organic materials can be thrown in the pile but you are advised to not throw in meat and dairy products.
- Worm bin or vermicomposting. Worms eat everything and are rather pleasant roommates. They clean up your messes, don’t smell and stay quiet. Keep them in a small plastic bin and feed them all of your unwanted food. Red worms are recommended and can be bought at several sites online.
- Bokashi (Japenese for ‘fermented organic matter’). Not fond of worms in your house? All you need is a bucket (preferably with a valve at the bottom) and bokashi mix of friendly microorganisms. This process will break down organic waste through the process of fermentation. The end product will still need to be completely broken down in a compost pile or buried in the ground. The upside to bokashi is you can throw any waste in, including meat, oils and dairy.
- In vessel composting (tumblers) – There are thousands of varieties of tumblers you can make or buy. The idea is the same regardless of the variety: throw your waste and dry material in, tumble it every few days to aerate and leave it be. This is the kind I use (similar to this one still sold online)- it’s simple, low maintenance and doesn’t stink.
- Windrows – Have a lot of waste? Most large scale compost facilities use windrows. They are rows of waste at least 14-16 feet long that heat up to high temperatures to break down organic material. Bulldozers are usually used to turn the piles. If done correctly, they too have low odor.
No matter the type or composting you choose make sure to add brown material. Stephen Smith, Dallas Urban Farmer and founding member of farmvet.org stresses the importance of balancing your waste inputs with brown material, “You need enough dry ingredients. The importance in creating compost that works, making the right recipe is the key. Making sure you have dry ingredients to top dress every time you dump your waste in.” Your brown material can be leaves, dry grass/straw, used brown paper towels or cardboard such as egg cartons.
Smith is currently working on a project to showcase and educate Dallas on urban gardening and composting at a site right next to the Dallas Farmers Market. Through their nonprofit Farmers Assisting Returning Military, Smith and his colleagues are passioned to turn a current parking lot into a working urban garden and compost facility right next to the Dallas Farmers Market. The project, in it’s infancy stages, will showcase urban farming while also providing meaningful “dirt therapy” to veterans at risk. Learn more and support their efforts at farmvet.org.
If all of these compost options sound like too much work for you, you have one more alternative. Convince nine of your neighbors to go in on a compost collection with you. Recycle Revolution (recyclerevolutiondallas.com) will pick up your compost waste (large businesses or ten houses in an area or more) and deliver to large scale local compost facilities for a small fee.
No matter what way you choose to compost, these methods are better than the trash can. When we throw our waste in the trash it ends up at our landfills and begins a slow pollution emitting breakdown. Municipal solid waste landfills are the second largest source of human related methane emissions in the US (EPA). Every little bit helps. You may not reach the standards set by the NYC woman with one mason jar for two years, but you’re bound to be tossing less trash into the landfill each week.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.