On any environmentalist’s journey to low impact, there are stumbles and falls, and perhaps, avalanches like the time that I tried to compost. Composting is easy, right? I mean, you are just letting food scraps decompose naturally into the soil. That was my first mistake, I assumed this was going to be simple.
Let me backtrack a little bit and tell you about my history with environmentalism and my experiences with composting.
Before being “green” was a trend, my family and I practiced some good habits when it came to trying to reduce our waste. We have always, always recycled both by sending/taking our items to the local recycle center and by reusing items in our home. We switched to using only cloth napkins in the early 2000’s, per my little brother’s request (he was in elementary school at the time) and in the last five years have started using only reusable water bottles.
Composting was something we only did in the summer, was not a complicated process and was sort of an excepted mystery to me. During the warm months, an old ice cream bucket would show up on our kitchen counter and my mom would put food scraps in it, most memorably coffee grounds, fruit peels and pits and egg shells. I quickly learned to put my food scraps in the bucket and often was charged with the task of taking the bucket down to the compost pile when it was full. Our compost was a pile in the back of my parent’s backyard out of reach of our dogs. I would dump the bucket out and consider my chore completed, never really considering what was happening in front of me.
Needless to say, I had no idea that there was a proper way to compost, so when I decided to focus on zero waste for a personal development project at work, I started with doing some research on at-home composting. First discovering why we compost. This video by Auri Jackson, who works at Buzzfeed in Los Angeles, CA and is an actual legend, really kicked off my exploration.
Composting historically and primarily is good for creating your own nutrient dense soil at home. And though it is 100% still used for that purpose, many people, including myself, are starting to compost so that they will reduce methane emissions from landfills and lower their carbon footprint. (EPA)
So, now I knew why. Next, how.
You need three things to compost: browns (dead leaves, branches and twigs), greens (food waste and grass clippings) and water. I had only contributed the greens before, so the browns and water were new to me. What I was now realizing was my childhood composting system was outside and therefore provided the browns and the water naturally. If I was going to compost at my rental house in the middle of downtown Winchester, VA I was going to have to find a different way to compost.
Here were my limitations: I have a small fenced in backyard, neighbors within feet and a curious dog. A compost pile in my backyard was simply out of the question.
So, I made a plan. I would collect the greens from mine and my husband’s daily lives in a large bin with a lid so that animals couldn’t get in it and so that it wouldn’t flood when it rained. I would then take that bin of greens to my parent’s house at the end of every week and empty my spoils into my parent’s compost pile, wash my bin out and repeat the process. Boy, was I wrong.
To put it frankly, it rained all freakin’ summer. According to the National Weather Service, 2018 was the wettest year on record at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, clocking in over 60 inches of rainfall.
My compost bucket flooded with a quickness, but I was determined, against my husband’s better judgment, to keep composting. And when it came time to make my first pilgrimage to my parent’s house, a mere 18 minutes away, I was ready and motivated. I was doing my part to save the planet, for God’s sake.
I lugged my bin, mostly full of water and rotten food scraps, into my 1999 Rav 4 and immediately felt my nose hairs begin to singe off. You can ask my hound dog, who has the smelliest recorded breath in history, how she felt. If she shoves her nose out the window to get reprieve from the stench of compost, you know it’s bad.
I forced Logan to help me drag the bin to the compost pile at my parent’s house and sheepishly watched and dry heaved at a safe distance away as he dumped it.
We did this a total of one more time and two more bins, in varying sizes, later before I gave up on composting for now.
The moral to this story is that it’s okay to mess up when you are trying to better yourself or your environment. My heart was and is in the right place, but I just don’t have the means to be a successful composter at the moment.
I will return to composting again in the future when I have a bigger backyard with the ability to empty my scrap bucket every day. For now, I am focusing on reducing the amount of food that I waste and the amount of plastic that I use.