Composting in a City
What is compost?
Compost is a system that breaks down organic materials to make a nutrient-rich soil fertilizer to grow happy and healthy plants. The EPA breaks down compost into 3 main components: browns, greens, and water. The “browns” include paper products and tree parts while “greens” are mostly made of up of food scraps.
Different levels of compost can break down different things. Larger systems like Whole Foods or university campus systems can break down “compostable plastic” cups and utensils. Smaller systems, like a backyard system, can be overwhelmed by things like meat and citrus and are not able to break them down.
Why should I compost?
According to the USDA, about a third (31%) of our food is lost or wasted. As someone who is food secure (I know where my next meal is coming from) I need to do as much as I can to help with this issue of food waste because I have the privilege to. When we hear that people are going hungry it seems like the obvious solution would to be to produce more food; we actually have enough food to feed more people but it is being improperly distributed and wasted.
When food or other organic materials (food scraps, plants, meat, hair, nail clippings, paper products, etc.) end up in a landfill, they don’t have the oxygen they need to break down. These materials can end up producing methane which is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Compost is a system that takes these organic products and makes a nutrient-rich soil fertilizer that can be used to grow more food. Composting not only stops food from ending up in a landfill and producing methane, but it re-uses the nutrients that would have been wasted!
How can I compost?
There are different ways to compost and they all have different levels of involvement in the process.
Collect your own compost and have someone else pick up it up.
Collect your own compost and bring it to someone else to compost.
Collect your own compost and process it yourself.
Supporting others businesses and properties who compost.
Personally I use a system that picks up a bucket from the front of my apartment building once a week and takes my compost to a local facility. Bennet Compost and Circle Compost charge less than $20 dollars a month for weekly pickups. They also use a bike system for pickups and give you free compost soil as part of your membership! There are a lot of smaller systems in place like this in cities, but they all have slightly different systems and prices. When I lived in New York, GrowNYC collected compost at local farmers markets for free. Once my housing co-op got enough people on board they eventually set up a drop-off location on our property which made it much more accessible.
Not all compost systems accept the same organic material but here is a list from Bennett Compost of items they do and don’t collect. I keep my compost in a sealed 5 gallon bucket at room temperature. When my bucket is full or my apartment is too hot and I know it could end up smelling bad I keep my compost in the freezer in an old arugula box.
If collecting compost in your home isn’t an option for you try supporting people and businesses who do, like restaurants, cafes and even hair salons!
What am I waiting for?
I don’t know! Do some research on how you can compost today! For me, composting has been rewarding while still being cheap and easy to do, all it took was doing the initial research.