Did you know that composting can transform your trash into new life? And that new life, in the form of microbes, fungi, earthworms, and more, provides the foundation for much of all other healthy life on Earth.
Composting is a great way to create healthy soil to support our people and our planet. Healthy soil is also a magical carbon sink that absorbs carbon from our atmosphere and helps cool the planet. While dead dirt has few living organisms, a teaspoon of healthy soil has more living organisms in it than the entire population of humans on Planet Earth!(1)
We need the world to compost!
Don’t think you can compost? We’ve got a whole set of resources on Everything To Know About Composting At Home, including more You Can Make Dirt interviews. All of this information about composting at home will hopefully prove that just about anyone can make space and find a system to turn their food scraps into nutrient-rich compost to enrich our soil, feed our food cycle, and limit the food waste that ends up in landfills.
This series highlights families in various circumstances who have all found a way that composting works for their lifestyle. Hopefully, you can be inspired to give it a go and help our planet stay a little healthier.
Today I have an edition of Bring Your Trash To Life with Sarah, a mum from the United Kingdom who’s currently living near Boston, Massachusetts. I love that Sarah dove into composting when she couldn’t find the solutions she knew and loved from back home.
Even more, I love that Sarah is making strides to mobilize her neighbors and community to participate as well. Not only does she compost at home, but she has a bin for her neighbors to use, and she’s working with other parents in her children’s school to hopefully start a composting program at their school. Further, her family participates in a litter clean up campaign for 2020 to encourage people to be more involved in cleaning up their communities, one bag at a time.
Let’s hear more from Sarah about how her modern family composts their food scraps and significantly reduces their family’s landfill waste.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you live, your family, etc.. the Sarah 101?
I’m a mum of two (7 and 5), and I live in a smallish town called Cohasset, just south of Boston, MA. We moved here just over 18 months ago when my husband got an offer of a transfer from the London (England) office, and we thought it was time for an adventure!
While trying to adjust to a completely different way of life, I rediscovered my childhood passion for all things environmental and slowly worked more sustainable habits into our new routine and lifestyle.
My son was on board straight away, but my daughter (the eldest) and my husband took a bit of persuading. They’re pretty much all on the eco train now though and the kids even have a litter picking campaign going for 2020 (#just1bag2020).
Tell us a little bit about why you decided to start composting?
In the UK, our food waste was collected weekly from our house by the town for free (included in the equivalent of property taxes). In exchange, residents could collect a bag of free compost once a year. My mum has always composted, so it was a way of life really.
When we arrived in Cohasset, the guy at the town dump looked at me like I was mad when I asked where I should put my food waste! In general, the landfill was apparently the only answer for our town (no curbside companies have made it here yet).
It felt so wrong throwing all the food scraps in the normal trash. After nine months of procrastinating, I finally ordered my first compost bin. I have no idea why it took me so long. I think I was worried about coyotes and deer getting into it, but I shouldn’t have been. Six months later, we added a second bin for our waste and for our neighbors to use if they wanted to give it a try.
What method or methods of composting do you use or have you used?
I’m not an expert composter. I don’t look at the science or turn my piles regularly, just whenever the mood takes me. I dump my food waste and cover with leaves or cardboard, then dump more food and cover with another brown layer. I figure eventually it’ll all breakdown, and I don’t need compost super quick so it’s fine.
The first bin I got was a GEOBIN which is easy to put together but doesn’t have a lid. Then I got a more traditional bin from our town dump (lots of towns in Massachusetts have subsidized compost bins for sale).
My process is the same for both bins. I take my kitchen caddy out to it, empty, cover with browns, and walk away. My GEOBIN will be my summer one as it’s further down the garden. The new one is by the house, so it’s easier to run out to it in the winter.
Have you had any methods that didn’t work for you?
I think the compost bin with a lid will be much better (I’ve only just got it). The GEOBIN is more prone to animals knocking it over (which is a good way to turn it). In our harsh winters, the contents freeze so it doesn’t break down as fast. It’s fine in the summer though.
How do you store the scraps until they are taken to your compost pile?
I have a little caddy in my kitchen in which I collect food scraps. When that’s full, and it’s too cold to go outside, I use an old dishwasher tablet container to collect some more. When that’s full, I have to go outside and empty them both.
I’ve never had any issues with smells, although we did get some fruit flies in the summer. However, other people near us who didn’t compost also had trouble with fruit flies, so I don’t blame the caddy completely. The caddy isn’t big, so it’s pretty inconspicuous on our windowsill.
Do you have any special tools, containers, or products that help make composting easier or more accessible for you?
Not really! The compost bin and caddy are as technical as my tools get.
Do you have any other supplies or materials that you store until you need to add them to your compost pile?
After reading some of the blogs on here, I’ve started keeping more brown cardboard for my pile. Previously I’ve just used all the thousands of leaves that lie around our yard! I’ve now got a box which I put cardboard in when I get it. It’s out of the way with the other recycling boxes so it doesn’t bother us at all.
How does your family feel about composting?
They’re all supportive. It’s taken a bit of time to get the right things in the right bin. We keep dairy, meat, and oil out of our bins, but most other things go in.
My husband is trying and doesn’t complain too much when I dig through the trash to get something that could have gone in the compost. The kids bring back their orange peels and banana skins from school so they can be composted. Also, I’m working with some mums to see if we can get them composting at the school too.
Have you experienced any benefits from composting, especially ones that might have surprised you?
I don’t have a smelly trash bin anymore! The amount of waste we create has reduced massively. We have to pay to throw away our trash, so reducing our waste is great. I only take a bag of landfill trash every 3-4 weeks to our town dump now. At one point, I was going every week with a full bag.
We’ve switched to more (but not solely) plant-based meals, so all our waste is usually compostable, and there is way less packaging. The kids have learnt about the environment and why it’s important to send food waste back to the earth. I love seeing them learn and work out their own ways of doing things.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers about your composting practices, especially to help beginners gain confidence that they too can compost?
It’s so easy, but it’s so easy to put off getting started. Talk to a friend or neighbor who does it and have a look at theirs if you can. Then just do it! When you get started, you’ll wonder what took you so long. Good luck!
Where else can we find you and learn more about what you’re up to?
Thanks so much, Sarah for sharing your composting story and letting us see how your family composts in your everyday life!
(1) According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.