The Dirt: My Adventures in Urban Composting

The Dirt: My Adventures in Urban Composting

Whenever one decides to make a huge change, especially when it’s a change for the better, the impulse is to jump in wholeheartedly and with both feet. I don’t think, however, that this is always the wisest tactic in the long run. How many New Year’s resolutions – to either quit something or start something – are abandoned by Groundhog Day? The longest lasting change is that which is adopted gradually.

Easier said than done. When I started looking at my and my family’s lifestyle and environmental impact, and decided that it was time to make a change, I wanted to do it immediately. All of it. Every piece of plastic, toxic, non-biodegradable, single use (the list goes on and on) had to go. I recoiled in horror at the bottle of Windex in my laundry room. WE SHOULD BE USING WHITE VINEGAR!

I had to stop myself from throwing everything out because that would only actually create MORE waste. I took a deep breath and decided instead to use up what I’ve got while researching sustainable and eco-friendly options to replace them with for when I run out.

If I could give you one piece of advice if you are reading this it would be that. See what everyday items and products you have around your home and farm that you can replace with environmentally friendly options. Then do it. Easy, right?

One area in which I did not take my own advice was composting. Yes, you read that right. Composting. Why, you may be asking yourself, did I decide to start composting in my sixth floor apartment in New York City and not in a few weeks from now when our family will move full time out to the farm where we will have things like space, grass, and other necessities to start a giant dirt pile?

I love to cook. I drink a homemade green juice every morning. I realized as I inventoried our family’s trash, a large proportion of it was food waste. From the leftover pulp of my morning juicing, to egg shells, peels, rinds, there was a huge amount.

Quick aside on why to compost in the first place. Isn’t food matter biodegradable? Well, yes, it is. However, when compostable items get dumped in a landfill, they lack the oxygen to decompose properly resulting in methane gas emissions.

Methane = greenhouse gas = global warming

YUCK

YUCK

We are among the luckiest of the lucky to have not only a terrace of our own, but access to a ton of green space as our building sits on the grounds of a theological seminary. It’s like living on a mini college campus, grass quad and all. I figured there were tons of plants in my own literal backyard who could benefit from my urban compost, and if I had a huge surplus of it, I could find tons of neighborhood houseplants who would enjoy the natural fertilizer. I could be the compost fairy!

Sage, opal basil, lemon balm, thyme, oregano. My veritable “herban” oasis. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

Sage, opal basil, lemon balm, thyme, oregano. My veritable “herban” oasis. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

Such pretty greenery, even on a dreary day

Such pretty greenery, even on a dreary day

I ordered this bin online – all the while feeling guilty about the cardboard box it came in! – and found it fool proof to set up. Thankfully the company did not use extra and unnecessary plastic wrapping, so the box went into recycling (after making a brief detour as a fort for my son) and my conscience was somewhat assuaged.

This is called the cutest composter in the world. Even cuter with an Empire State Building View! I ordered the black one (I  am  a New Yorker through and through), though it does come in pink as well.

This is called the cutest composter in the world. Even cuter with an Empire State Building View! I ordered the black one (I am a New Yorker through and through), though it does come in pink as well.

I also purchased this countertop bin to collect food scraps throughout the day, so we are not constantly running back and forth to the balcony. This is optional, however. Many people just keep a big bowl in their freezer to store scraps until they head to the compost bin. The important thing is to keep them either frozen or well-sealed, so your kitchen won’t start to smell like rotting food.

Stainless steel, wooden countertops, sharp knives and a bright backsplash make me so happy.

Stainless steel, wooden countertops, sharp knives and a bright backsplash make me so happy.

 So, I had the tools and the motivation to begin. But, me being the perfectionist that I am, I needed to do an endless amount of research and read a lot of manuals before starting. Hey, my nickname isn’t Straight-A for nothing.

I was promptly halted in my tracks when I read the following:

A compost pile needs to have a 50-50 ratio of nitrogen to carbon

Wait. I have to do math AND chemistry?

Suddenly I flashed back to 10thgrade chem with Mr. Chapnick. Absolutely nothing he said at any point during the year penetrated my gray matter. I didn’t fail, exactly, but it wasn’t a shining moment in my academic career.

In rides my husband, like a knight in compost armor to translate for me, and now I can relay that to you.

Put about the same amount of brown stuff (leaves, twigs, wood chips) as green stuff (food scraps).

Give it a turn about once a day. If you have the cool spinny one like I have, that is super easy and fun, especially for kids.

Stuff I didn’t know you could compost, but can:

Tea bags

Coffee grinds

Egg shells

Paper

Sawdust

Compostable packaging, bags, dinnerware (check these out for your next party - they’re made from avocado pits!)

How’s it looking? So far so good. It doesn’t smell at all (yay) and it seems to be breaking down in a sort of brown mulch-y substance that looks like it would be delicious – if I were a plant.

My cutie little rooftop strawberries are going to very happy with me soon

My cutie little rooftop strawberries are going to very happy with me soon