Thursday, March 12, 2009

Adventures in Urban Composting

It's my guilty moment of the week again - time to take out the trash. I glance in to see what the week's detritus consists of, and I feel that familiar twinge. While I am pretty happy about the fact that two people have generated less than a kitchen garbage bag's worth of trash, the majority of our waste is food scraps, which will decompose in the anaerobic landfill environment and produce methane, a global warming gas more potent than carbon dioxide.

I live in a city with a robust recycling system, so I am able to reuse or recycle almost anything else that might otherwise make its way into my garbage. According to the EPA, 24% of household wastes consists of food scraps and yard trimmings, so it seems I am not alone. Some cities, including Seattle and San Francisco are now offering composting bins for residents that are picked up once a week along with recycling and trash. Other areas, like Santa Barbara County, offer composting bins at reduced rates as well as free composting workshops. Check with your local municipality to see if they offer similar services.

If you decide to compost on your own, the EPA's website is a good place to start to get an overview of different methods and services available in your region. Santa Barbara County also has an extensive online composting guide available on their website.

If you decide to go the urban composting route and have limited outdoor space, consider vermicomposting - tapping into the magical power of composting with worms. I have a tiny deck outside my apartment, and this will be command central for my new compost pile.

According to the Santa Barbara County composting guide, bins also give you bang for your buck. You can build one for about $40 or you can order one from a gardener's supply store. The guide tells me how to calculate the size bin I will need, how many red worms to get, and what can be composted. Here is the rundown of treats for my new squirmy friends:

  • Vegetable Scraps
  • Fruit Peels and Scraps
  • Coffee Grounds and Filters
  • Plant Clippings and Leaves
  • Crushed Egg Shells
  • Stale Bread and Grains
  • Tea Bags
  • Untreated Paper Towels and Tissue Paper
In other words, I can pretty much compost everything that I have been throwing in the trash - hooray!

Of course, I'm also on a budget, so I'm off to search a few how-to sites to figure out how to build my bin. Temperature is a consideration when vermicomposting as well; the worms like 55-75 degree weather, which is pretty much the temperature in Seattle eight months out of the year, so I'm all set there. It's been hovering around 45 degrees lately, so I'm going to give myself a few weeks to gather the materials, do a bit more research, and let the air warm to ideal worm temp.

If you are considering setting up your own composting system, check out these resources:
For the true worm fanatic, there is also, but I don't think I'm there yet. Check back in a few weeks to see how the composting is going and whether or not I am eating my words (but not my worms!).

No comments: