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’m featuring Faye from Sustaining Life. I’ll let her tell you a bit more about herself and her foray into composting.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you live, your family, etc.. the Faye 101?
I’m a California born, New York City based advocate for sustainable living. I am the writer behind Sustaining Life and the Events Coordinator for the Ethical Writers & Creatives. I’ve lived in New York for 3 years now, the first two of which I spent in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. For the last year I’ve been in the Clinton Hill/Fort Greene neighborhood (which I call the “land of compost bins”). I live with my boyfriend, Jeremia, and my cat, Miso! I’m a big lover of cooking and shopping at the farmers market, and I work from home, so keeping up with the kitchen is a little easier for me than most people who spend all day away from home.
Tell us a little bit about why you decided to start composting, especially considering you don’t use any of the benefits (i.e. the rich compost soil) yourself?
Funnily enough Facebook recently reminded me of the first time I realized the benefits of composting. In my junior year of college at UC Davis I went to the Yolo County landfill with my class where I learned that 22% of the trash in that landfill was food waste – which is insane! The landfill folks talked about how all of that food waste causes the landfill to be more stinky and polluting and that the county (being a rather progressive one when it comes to the environment) was working to mitigate that environmental issue. They had begun throwing tarps over parts of the landfill and using them to capture the methane that the food waste was giving off. They then diverted this methane and turned it into biogas which they used to fuel their fleet of garbage trucks around the city of Davis. I thought this was so dang cool and couldn’t believe that every landfill in the world wasn’t doing it yet. It also opened up my eyes to the volume of food waste that gets thrown away.
Living in a city, especially one known for small spaces, can you share more details about exactly how you execute this?
As a city-dweller (especially in a city like NYC that gets hot and gross), my major concern is smell and bugs. Ever since I’ve lived in NYC, I’ve employed the use of my freezer for composting. I have two re-purposed plastic salad clamshells living in my freezer where I dump my food scraps on a daily basis.
When I lived in the Lower East Side we did not have city-operated compost bins at our building, so I put my two plastic clamshells full of compost in a bag every Saturday and took it to the farmers market on the subway. Some weeks I would forget or not be able to go and our freezer would be very full the week afterwards!
Eventually the Lower East Side Ecology Center started offering curbside drop-off for compost. Every Wednesday there were a few trash cans set up on my corner where I would dump my frozen scraps before bringing my plastic clamshells back home.
Now that we live in the land of compost, we are super stoked to have a bin right outside our front door! We get to dump our compost whenever it gets full, which frees up the freezer for better stuff. It gets picked up by the city every week, woohoo!
Do the food scraps smell? Or if they are in your freezer, do they take up a lot of space?
The freezer is very effective at keeping the smells away, thank goodness. Since my boyfriend and I are big on cooking, we do fill up our freezer clamshells pretty quickly. It’s less of an issue now that we have a compost bin at our building, but we have experienced our fair share of compost-full freezer syndrome. I’m also a natural dyer so my freezer is also full of bags of frozen avocado pits and onion skins…haha.
Honestly, sometimes it’s annoying, but I just laugh about it and tetris things around to find more space. Having the compost in plastic clamshells helps this a lot because they’re a solid shape rather than some amorphous plastic bag! And if it just gets too crazy in there, we can always divert a few handfuls of compost back into the landfill, as sad as it made me whenever we had to do that.
How did you figure out which food scraps could be composted and what to do with them? Does your collector have a guide on their website of what to include and what not to include and where to bring it?
Most facilities that accept compost tell you what you can and cannot put in there. When we lived in the Lower East Side, we had to be careful not to add anything too oily (or meat or cheese but we’re vegetarian/vegan so that wasn’t an issue for us), but now that we live in the land of compost (Brooklyn) we pretty much put everything in there. I always check the city’s department of sanitation website or our dropoff location’s signage first.
Do you have any special tools, containers, or products that help make composting easier or more accessible for you?
Those plastic clamshells are really key. We used to store our freezer compost in a plastic bag but they would always rip and ended up taking up a ridiculous amount of space in the freezer. The square packets of compost are much easier to deal with.
I also keep a little tupperware out on my counter at all times to capture compost as it’s created. I put it next to the chopping board so that as I cut veggies or clean up the kitchen, I have a small bin for all compostables. This is much easier than opening the freezer for every little thing. Once the tupperware is full of scraps, I empty that into the freezer clamshell all at once and place it back on my counter. It’s like a scrappy little addition to my mise-en-place whenever I’m cooking.
How does your boyfriend feel about composting? Does he participate?
My boyfriend is probably better at composting than I am! Sometimes I’m absent-minded but he’s very diligent 🙂
Have you experienced any benefits from composting, especially ones that might have surprised you?
We rarely have to throw out our trash because of the compost. We take the compost out way more than the trash! That’s really only a perk because we’re lazy and we like giving ourselves sustainability high fives…
One time, the Lower East Side Ecology Center had a sort of composters appreciation day, and we received a nice bag of soil that was made from our compost. I loved that and so did our houseplants!
Anything else you’d like to share with readers about your composting practices, especially to help beginners gain confidence that they too can compost?
Just try it! It’s way easier than you think it is, and eventually, it just becomes a part of your routine. If you are lucky to live with or near a dropoff location then you really should be composting. If you have to lug it to someplace far away then give it a shot but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t compost one week. It shouldn’t have to feel like a terrible chore or guilty weight. Just do what you can!
Where else can we find you and learn more about what you’re up to?
Follow along on my blog, Sustaining Life. I write about compost sometimes alongside other zero-waste tricks (I’m going to try and go plastic-free in July, eek!), sustainable brands, and other interesting topics related to sustainability.
Have any questions for Faye? Leave them in the comments!
(1) According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.