Monday, June 23, 2008

Composting Fury

As an inveterate apartment dweller for all of my life, the idea of a compost heap sounds as magical as a tomato garden, as wondrous as home-cured salumi and as elusive as the wild mushroom of immortality. Okay, so I'm getting carried away. Composting is probably easier than finding lingzhis, but never having lived in a house with a compost capability, it has always sounded thoroughly exotic to me.

Laugh if you like, but off and on, over the past several years, I've expressed an ardent desire (usually it comes out as a whine) for a compost bin. It often comes with an equally whiny plea for a garden...and a pony... and world peace. However, more recently I've revisited the idea, spurred on by websites that offer hints on apartment-scaled composting, undeniably attracted by the thought of a bin that would fit under our sink. It still seemed impractical and we had many unanswered questions about bug control and/or smell, more research... more thinking... more discussing... But at last, I was finally put right over the edge this weekend by the innocent-looking little shelling pea you see above.

I love shelling peas, they make a great snack, come prepacked in their own individual wrappers, taste sweet and are a nice healthy alternative to my usual junk food. However, as with many other kinds of beans, you get somewhere between 5 and 8 peas per pod, and throw away 90% of the bulk. To a landfill. If you're not composting.

Over the weekend, we were so pleased with our healthful approach to life, visiting the Ferry Plaza farmer's market for vegetables and fruit, making our own peach ice cream, our own smoked salmon salad, a Meyer lemon snack, munching on shelling peas. Then on Monday I looked into the 8 gallon trash can in our kitchen and had a moment. A rampaging moment. Peach peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, dead flowers, leaves off my plant, lettuce cores, and pea pods-- so many pea pods.

It's a little gross, but yes, I dug through our garbage and sorted out what was compostable from what was not and LO! Nearly EVERYTHING belonged in compost.

Food scraps and paper tissues and paper towels filled a bag's worth of space and the non-compostable stuff? Barely a handful.

"This is NOT going to a landfill!" I muttered over and over as I rooted around in every trash can in the house. "Hey, we're supposed to be recycling CDs! And what's this battery doing in here???"

I'm not so much turning into Lola Granola, as the Raging Compost and Recycling Fury.

I started re-evaluating the non-compostables I'd pulled from the trash. Cat food can tops (recyclable), a Straus Dairy plastic top (marked plastic type 4--recyclable), plastic tabs from the same (recyclable), aluminum top to the frozen juice can (recyclable), champagne bottle cork (recyclable), wire top to same (recyclable). When I finished, and I kid you not, we had true garbage that weighed in at 6.25 ounces. Compost bag? About 12 pounds.

I am horror-struck. 97% of my garbage could be composted. All my wastrel life, how much of my garbage that could have been reclaimed is now living in a landfill?

Originally as I proposed the "let's have a compost basket in the kitchen," I had thought that a small basket would be enough to hold our compostables for a week, and that we'd then haul it down to Whole Foods and chuck it into their giant commercial-sized compost dumpster. Given the "12 lbs. versus 6.25 oz." proportions, we decided to flip things around, and our regular garbage can is now happily lined with a compostable biobag, and the little basket is ready for any garbage we can't recycle, reuse or renew any other way.

Of course, I'd still love to have my own little heap of quietly decomposing materials under the sink or in a corner, but it looks a fair way off yet. The Nature Mill Automatic Composter is very cool, but at $300 it's too expensive. The 10-20 gallon tub method described here is attractive, but still too large to fit under our sink, plus there's the insect problem. And every other kind of compost pail we've seen completes its description with "then simply take it out to your yard and dump the compost onto your outdoor heap." Oh sure. My outdoor heap. In that yard I don't have, behind the house I don't live in.

So for the nonce, we shall be collecting 97% of our garbage in our biobag and hauling to Whole Foods. After all, as I pointed out to my Omnivore, if we're lucky enough to live in a city with one of the most ground-breaking (literally) composting programs in the nation, we should take advantage of it.

How about it folks? Where is your 97% going?

As for me, I'm off to shell a few more peas...

Interesting links:
-- San Francisco's Composting Program
-- Jepson Prairie Organics: SF composters, see where your goodies go.
-- 163 things you can compost: Not all of this makes the cut for the SF city composting program of course... but for the home composter (Bat guano?)
-- EcofindeRRR: where to recycle or dispose of just about anything (Bay Area only)


Antonio said...

What kind of composter do you have ?

ME said...

We're lucky -- in San Francisco the local waste management agency actually does compost collection -- we separate into bins and they take it away and compost it at a large facility in the south of the city!