Food waste accounts for eight percent of greenhouse gas admissions. The carbon footprint of U.S. food waste is greater than that of the airline industry.
Food waste happens in supermarkets, in commercial kitchens, and in our own kitchens. We’ve all purchased fresh food that’s gone bad before we’ve eaten it. We’ve all been spooked by slimy things we find in the back of our refrigerators. Plus there are all those peelings, eggshells, coffee grounds, and other organic trimmings that typically get tossed in the trash.
Where does it all go? To landfills, where the food rots and produces huge amounts of methane—a greenhouse gas 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide.
More than 300 communities in the U.S. offer curbside composting and dozens more have compost drop-off programs. It’s not nearly enough, and until more community composting becomes available, some of us have to do the dirty work on our own.
In my household, we produce multiple wheelbarrows full of dark, rich compost every year, which we feed to our garden beds, young trees, and flower pots. People who want to get started with composting often ask me how I do it, so I will share my secrets.
First, a word upfront: composting might seem like a lot of work, but it doesn’t seem that way to me. I think of it as a lifestyle choice. One of those “do your tiny part to save the world” habits.
To get started, you need a small compost bucket for your kitchen. A lot of people keep their bucket under the sink, but we use ours so often (almost every meal prepared) that we keep it on the countertop. It looks as pleasant as any other appliance and is definitely cuter than our toaster.
Every morning the coffee grounds go in, and so begins the day. Eggshells and edamame pods, carrot peels and radish ends, onion skins and watermelon rinds. The rotten peach. The moldy end of bread. The banana peel. Basically, every food scrap that isn’t meat or seafood based gets shoved into the container
When the bucket is full, I empty it into a rotating drum we keep outside, not too close to the house. To keep the contents of the drum from getting too mushy, I add dried leaves I collect and bag in the autumn and keep stored throughout the year.
The daily routine: empty the bucket, rotate the drum. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Then comes the day when the drum is full and needs to be emptied. Look away if you’re the sensitive type. This is the fragrant, icky part, but there’s a good reason rubber gloves exist. And I know you’ve got the grit to handle the muck.
I pull the compost out by hand and add it to my existing pile that I’ve shaped like a volcano opening. When finished, I quickly cover the new material and add a layer of dried leaves. This prevents the perfume from escaping.
I don’t touch the pile for a couple of weeks, and then I begin the turning process. Every couple of days I turn the pile with one of my favorite tools, the humble hoe. I have come up with three pile designs: mountain, volcano, and plateau. It’s very entertaining and decent exercise. If the compost is wet and heavy, I add more dried leaves. After a month or six weeks of regular turning and letting nature do its thing, the time has come to harvest the compost.
I use a screen set over a wheelbarrow, add shovelfuls of compost, and work it through the screen (rubber gloves again), then return the big chunks back to the pile. Now I have a wheelbarrow full of black gold, which I distribute to our appreciative garden.
In the winter, the compost pile isn’t active, but I continue to fill the drum and then a garbage can with kitchen scraps. Come spring, I empty it all into the pile and again cover it with leaves.
Today, I screened compost and fed the new trees we planted on our property. They were smiling in the sun. Then I washed my hands.