The Urban Composter

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The Urban Composter

A new decade is upon us and I have scores of ideas around how to jumpstart this journey towards a more environmentally conscious home. Do we dive head first into the recycling rabbit hole? Explore the different ways to remove plastic from your bathroom? or what to do with old bed sheets and clothes? The list goes on and on…and on. As you can see by the title, I have decided to focus first on one of the main sources of waste in the American home…food scraps. Now this post is not meant to be derogatory or judgmental; even in a household where there is an active effort to not waste food, I imagine there is still daily food waste. Think about it… the butt end of lettuce, the ends of green beans, egg shells, even your coffee grinds and filter. So, to begin this journey together, I figured there is no better place to start than right here.

A Few Interesting Facts!!!

Did you know the average person generates roughly 5.9 lbs. of waste per day? Over the course of a year, each of us likely produces upwards of 2,153 pounds of waste! Of that, roughly 15% comes in the form of food waste, another 20% in the form of yard trimmings/wood products (obviously different for city dwellers), and the list goes on and on. I believe one of our biggest inefficiencies is that we throw compostable/biodegradable material into non-biodegradable bags. Material is not given the opportunity to break down naturally and ends up leading to landfill & methane problems (another topic for another post!). The US EPA has done studies showing the daily waste of an average American and has created a pie chart of how that waste is categorized. If we were to simply use a compostable bag, it is likely that up to 60% of your waste would decompose over time. So…the 2,153 lbs. of waste we each generate annually could be reduced by more than 1200 lbs. and of that 860 lbs. remaining, much of it can be recycled if done properly.

Image result for Daily waste per person

I am currently “field testing” this biodegradable trash bag ALTHOUGH I am not entirely sure how it will hold up when wet (the really good ones tend to disintegrate/break down when wet). Let me know if there are other brands you like as these aren’t cheap! I hope you see where I am going with this and why I chose to focus our attention here…

So You Have a Backyard

Now lets get into some simple steps we can take to be more conscious about our food waste. If you live in a home with a backyard, this can be as simple buying some chicken wire cage / metal stakes and putting up a square cage (as seen in the picture below) in the most unused corner of your backyard. If you want something a little more discrete, my good friend uses the Algreen composter and he says it does the job.

Store your food scraps in a bowl and chuck it in your compost bin after each meal. I guarantee you worms will take care of the rest and the dirt produced will have your rose garden or tomato plants looking better than any fertilizer on the market. For those who don’t have a backyard, I understand it is not that simple so let’s focus our efforts on ways to be creative when you live in a townhouse, condo, or apartment.

DIY Urban CompostingTechniques

TheDiehard Urban Composter… You know you’re this person when your friends and work colleagues start every conversation with “how is your worm farm doing?”, when you feed your pet worms all of your leftover food, and you grow vegetables using the compost produced. If you are already this person…RIGHT ON!! Comment on my blog and let me/others know if there are additional ways to improve their composting skills! If you are interested in becoming one of these people, here are my recommendations and lessons learned…

  1. Buy the Worm Factory 360 and pick up some of Uncle Jim’s Red Wigglers. Uncle Jim’s has sales throughout the year and he is way more knowledgeable about composting then I will ever be so definitely check out his website and don’t hesitate to call / email him with questions. I do recommend buying his worm food (comes in the starter kit linked above) as it is a reliable food source while they get acclimated. ***Here is video to watch, if you are looking for a more cost effective option to set up an in-home worm farm.

  2. Watch a few Youtube videos to familiarize yourself on how to set this thing up and get it operating at 100% capacity. My first go around I made the mistake of thinking that it is as simple as buying the farm, dumping the worms/bedding in, and feeding the worms food scraps. While not complicated, it is a process so spend some time learning best practices.

  3. Here are a few lessons I have learned along the way:

    1. At first, your worms won’t consume all of your food scraps so have a storage bin & local drop-off location identified.

    2. If you are doing this indoors, make sure you initially LEAVE THE LIGHTS ON while they are adapting to their new home. Forget to do this and you will come home to find your second bathroom looking like something out of a Hitchcock horror movie (Ask my wife for a more details around that story 😉 )

    3. If you are doing this outdoors, make sure you either live in a location that has mild temps (40 – 80 degrees), or you have a way to stabilize the temperature inside the farm. Because they can’t retreat into the ground, extreme temps will cause them to either freeze or dry up and die. Living in the Greater DC area, I found it very hard to do it on my balcony because our temps range from below freezing to over 100 degrees in the summer.

    4. Don’t overfeed… rotting moldy food smells bad! Make sure to monitor the food in the farm and make sure to occasionally churn the bedding/dirt.

Everyone Else!!! 🙂 … Even if you have no interest in owning pet worms, you can still eliminate this unnecessary waste and help convert it into incredible fertilizer-free top soil.

  1. Set up storage plan. You obviously aren’t going to take compost to a collection site after every meal so find a way to store it until you have time. Just like we have trash cans for trash, recycling bins for recycling, we should all have a compost bin for compostables. I have seen a number of approaches ranging from freezing compost until you’re ready to take it to a collection site, to storing it in a compostable bag / paper bag, to purchasing a compost storage bin. I have a balcony so my process is:

    • I purchased a compost bin on Amazon for my kitchen. This is not large and sits on top of my counter. Here are a few options I like, although there are tons of them so find one that looks nice in your kitchen :):

      1. Stainless Steel

      2. White

      3. Multiple Color Options

      4. When the bin fills up, I transition it to a paper shopping bag on my balcony. My wife and I produce enough food scraps where that bag fills up once every 1-2 weeks (depending on travel). If you don’t have a balcony, purchase a sealable plastic tub for under your sink and store compost in there until you are ready to take it to a drop-off location.

  2. Find your local compost drop-off location and figure out how you can make it weekly routine! I would like to think we all have 15-30 minutes free, once every few weeks, to drop off our compost while running errands. Finding a location near you might take little research. I found that Mom’s Grocery has a very impressive recycling center ranging from shoes, to Brita filters, to batteries and I believe they all allow composting drop-off. To identify a drop-off near you, I would start by searching “composting drop-off in {your respective county/city}“. Here are a few examples:

In Summary…

I hope this post provides enough guidance to help you make at least one small actionable change today that has a lasting impact on reducing your overall footprint! As always don’t hesitate to reach out with questions!!! If I don’t know the answer I will gladly help you find it!

Stay tuned for future posts and follow up!!! I am excited outline what happens to compost after you leave it at a drop-off location, the do’s & don’ts of composting, and things you didn’t know you can compost (sneak peek…QTips are compostable!). Here is one chart to reference when thinking about what products to compost vs. throw away:

Image result for Composting Chart

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