Spring is finally starting to show its face in our corner of the world, and Earth Day is just around the corner. What better time to talk about ways to keep our lovely planet healthy? It may seem impossible, but each of us can make a difference, in small or large ways. “Food makes up almost 13 percent of the U.S. waste stream but a much higher percent of landfill-caused methane” (according to this article by NRDC). One of the ways we can do our part involves turning food waste into nutrient-rich soil to plant next year’s herbs in. Composting is an easy way to increase our household sustainability, and reduce our carbon footprint. Learning how to compost is easy, and there’s plenty you can do to reduce food waste even before you start composting.
The waste hierarchy, usually known by its easy-to-remember shortened version: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” tells us that the best way to keep waste out of landfills is to reduce or minimize the amount of waste produced, so let’s start there. These are all tips that can help you out before you even get to the composting step.
Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste
Reduce over-purchasing of food. Letting food spoil in the refrigerator or on the counter is one of the worst feelings in the world, at least for me. So I’ve adopted a system where I plan out my meals before shopping, to ensure that everything I buy will be used in a timely manner. But even so, sometimes food goes bad. That’s where composting will come in.
Reduce waste scraps during food preparation. A good cooking class can teach you volumes about proper knife technique, and that will help you reduce the scraps down to almost nothing. Of course, almost nothing isn’t entirely nothing, so again, your compost bin will pick up the slack.
Give food a second life! This can be easy. Leftover bread becomes croutons, leftover fruit makes a great dessert topping, leftover rice can be fried and gain a second life as a delicious base for a stir-fry. Bones can become soup stock, as can vegetable trimmings. When you look at your leftovers with an eye to give them another chance, they often come out more appetizing than they did the first time. Composting will help give food its third life, as the fertile soil from which new seeds can sprout.
Sustainable practices don’t need to be difficult, and as shown above they don’t even need to take any extra effort. Composting is the next step in the reduce, reuse, recycle chain, called Recovery. We can use natural processes to recover the valuable nutrients out of our food wastes, in a number of different ways.
Some towns and even private services offer curbside pickup of your compostable goods, letting you do much the same as you would for trash or recycling. They haul the food waste off and take care of it at their large, efficient composting centers. Contact your local Department of Public Works to inquire about composting opportunities. In the Boston area, Bootstrap Compost picks up buckets for residents at a reasonable rate.
If curbside pickup isn’t an option, consider a home composting tumbler, such as this one, which can sit outside on your porch, or a patio, or in your back yard. They can even be used indoors if you add your own water at a reasonable rate.
A simple pile in the corner of your yard is all you need for a traditional compost pile. Just throw in your food scraps, and intermingle with dead leaves and let the microbes go to work.
Vermicomposting is an accelerated composting process that uses worms to speed things up. Rather than waiting for bacteria and microorganisms to do the work of breaking down food waste, the worms process it and leave behind a nutrient rich potting soil called castings. One major benefit is that you can do vermicomposting inside a small apartment, as long as you’re careful what you feed your worms.
The process uses red worms, instead of garden worms which are much more likely to want to explore and escape your composting bins. Red worms prefer to stay in one place, and churn out the best quality castings for composting. To find red worms, you can simply ask a vermicomposting friend to donate some, buy at a garden shop, or at a reasonable price online. There’s even an awesome map that lets you find local vermicomposters willing to donate worms.
Once your worms arrive, set them up in a nice bin which can be small or large, depending on how much food waste you have, and how much space you’re willing to devote. Feed them food scraps, and then add a layer of shredded paper or dry leaves. This staves off flies and odor, and the worms will eat and digest this, too.
You shouldn’t feed your worms meat or dairy, at least to start out, and especially not if you’re composting indoors or in a small space. The worms will eat it, but they’ll be slow about it, and in the mean time, they can stink the place up.
According to the EPA, “One pound of mature worms (approximately 800-1,000 worms) can eat up to half a pound of organic material per day. It typically takes three to four months for these worms to produce harvestable castings, which can be used as potting soil. Vermicomposting also produces compost or ‘worm’ tea, a high-quality liquid fertilizer for house plants or gardens.” (www.epa.gov)
The benefits of composting are huge, and it’s easy to get started, once you’ve learned the basics of how to compost. We here at the Herbal Academy of New England know just how much of an impact one person can make. Imagine the impact we can all make together if we start composting this year?
Have you ever tried composting? Planning to start now? Let us know in the comments about your composting experiences, and have a happy Earth Day!
Composting at Home. (2014, March 16). Retrieved from http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home
Hansen, W. Ecologic, Institute for International and European Environmental Policy, (2002). Eu waste policy and challenges for regional and local authorities. Retrieved from website: http://www.arctic-transform.eu/files/projects/2013/1921-1922_background_paper_waste_en.PDF
Reducing wasted food basics. (2014, March 16). Retrieved from http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-basics