July 9, 2009

Adventures in Composting

When I started to think about gardening, it naturally led to thinking about the soil and the nutrients it contained. My Jack's 99 Cent basil plant (which is doing quite well, thank you!) included instructions that recommended adding plant food after the seedlings sprout to promote growth. Considering the whole reason I wanted to start growing things on my own was to become more aware of what goes into my food and where it comes from, I figured this should be no exception. So I started to think about composting.

I didn't realize that in addition to creating nutritious food for my veggies, composting is like recycling for food waste. It seems like food would be the least worrisome trash item next to plastic and metal and all that, but apparently when food sits in a landfill in the absence of oxygen (because of all the other waste on top of it) it turns into methane gas, which contributes to pollution and global warming. According to the EPA, landfills are the largest single source of methane emissions in the US, accounting for 34% (other major sources include fossil fuel production and livestock, ahem, waste). Eek.

Shaun quickly shot down the idea of indoor composting, primarily because he'd prefer not to have hundreds of worms squirming around in our apartment, quite literally in a worm condo. While this is apparently not particularly uncommon, I couldn't really blame him, so I started looking into other options. Short of a curbside pick up program, the likes of which will soon go into effect in San Francisco, my best option seems to be the food waste drop off program run by the Lower East Side Ecology Center at the Union Square Greenmarket. Perfect! Well, except for the part where it involves saving up all my food waste, packing it up, and carrying it on the subway to take it to the drop off point.

I don't have a scale, but after about three weeks I ended up with this bag full that I'd say weighed about as much as a gallon of milk. Supposedly the average NYC household produces two pounds of food waste a day, so maybe we produce less because it's just the two of us. The key is to store it in the freezer it so it doesn't stink up the place. (When I made my first drop off, someone asked the woman working the booth if she could freeze the scraps, and she responded, "of course, everybody does it!" which gave me a very amusing mental image of just everybody everywhere going cuckoo about frozen compost scraps!) Carrying it really wasn't that bad though, and going forward I will definitely make more frequent trips in order to free up more freezer space and not have to carry so much at once. It's also a great motivation to stop by the market for veggies more often. I usually go on my way to work since I have to change trains at Union Square anyway and they open at 8 am. If the other L train riders only knew what was in my bag...

The other glitch is that you still have to buy the soil they make out of the composted material. But it's not so very much (about $1/pound) and I'm sure they have bills to pay too, so it seemed reasonable. And, my new cilantro plant shot up immediately when I planted it in some! (Disclaimer: I have no idea if this is just what cilantro plants do regardless of soil, but it looks good to me)

US EPA - Methane Sources and Emissions
LES Ecology Center Community Compost Program (includes a list of what you can/can't compost)


  1. Hey Diana, this is Leah. Susan and I just started composting too! We keep it in a plastic grocery bag, inside a giant tupperware container (with the top on) in the fridge. The top keeps the smell at bay and the container makes it easy to fit around other stuff. And then we just take the bag with us when we drop it off.

  2. That's awesome. So I'm not the only L train rider hauling around food scraps!