Did you know that vegetable scraps, paper, yard trimmings and other naturally “biodegradable” items can not decompose in most land fills? This is because most land fills are anaerobic (air-locked) which deprives the biodegradable materials of oxygen and of the micro-organisms that break them down. What this means for all of us, is that we better get good at separating our waste. Many of us already separate our recyclables but we need to start separating our compostable food scraps as well. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2010 Americans tossed 34 million tons of food waste.
Full confession – I have a worm bin for composting but I don’t use it. My excuse is that during the last few years I have moved so frequently that I haven’t been able to set it up. I’ve only been in my current place for 6 weeks, but this is still just an excuse. I feel horrible when I put plant scraps in the trash – and I do go through a ton of plant scraps – yet I find myself doing it. But there is an easier solution for many of us that doesn’t require buying a worm bin or other home compost bin. If you live in a city that provides you with a separate trash can for yard trimmings and debris, then you have your very own, city run composter. You know the trash can that is usually green? You can put not just leaves and branches in there but all fruit and vegetable waste as well.
I called the Bureau of Sanitation for the City of Los Angeles to verify this and to ask if any other items labeled compostable can be put in the green bin. While all fruit and veg scraps are welcome, you can not put compostable spoons, cups, bags, etc in there. There is actually a sticker on the inside of the green bin that lists what can go in the can.
Santa Monica also uses a green bin but it comes with no label or sticker. So I called them up yesterday and found out that in the city’s efforts to be as sustainable as possible, you can now put ALL food scraps in the green bins along with compost-ware (plant starch spoons, cups, etc.) and compostable “plastic” bags made of plant starches. She wanted to clarify that the label “biodegradable” means nothing to them but if a product is labeled “compostable” then you can put it in the green bin. I was a bit shocked knowing that items like meat and cheese should never go in a composter. But yes, in Santa Monica, even animals products can be composted. The city is using a high temperature composter that makes all this possible.
Tips to get started:
1. If you don’t have a green bin, call the city and ask if they have them. If green bins are offered they will be happy to deliver one for free and you shouldn’t pay to have service for your green bin. Cities want you to compost so they encourage you to with a free service. I live in an apartment building that doesn’t have a green bin but I made sure the landlord knows I would like him to order one for us. We all have big patios with trees that drop a ton of leaves so I think we need them anyway. Until then, there are plenty of green bins in the alley that I can use. Just don’t tell on me.
2. Food waste can get wet, mushy and rotten pretty quickly. Even if you don’t fill your green bin, make sure you put it out every week for pick-up. My mom leaves her fruit and veg scraps out in the sun for a day before she tosses them in the green bin. This dries out the produce and prevents her green bin from becoming a hot wet mess. If you want to compost meat scraps I suggest you collect them in a bag in the freezer first and then put them out for trash day. This should avoid nasty smells that would attract hungry little critters.
3. Keep a food scrap container in the kitchen to collect your scraps throughout the day. Any container with a lid works but you can also buy a compost pail. If you are all about convenience, you can buy a compostable food waste bag by BioBag to place in your container. This keeps the food contained and keeps your food scrap container clean.
4. If you don’t have a city green bin, then look into getting a compost bin. Worm bins compost very quickly but only get worms if you can take care of them. It doesn’t take much, just make sure they have scraps to eat and some water. Or you could always designate an area of your yard to be a compost. We did this growing up. Right by our vegetable garden we had a pile that served as our compost. Just keep that compost to plant scraps. Again, you don’t want eggs, meats, etc rotting in your backyard.
So it doesn’t get much easier. Collect your food scraps, toss in green bin, done! No more excuses for me and I hope for you either.