|Yes, I actually took a picture of my compost.|
Yes, I am insane.
What about recycling, you ask? Recycling is like the desktop computer in the era of the iPhone — still relevant and still very important, but not the latest and greatest invention, and certainly not a panacea. I use a desktop computer at work, but if I'm on the road and need to quickly find directions to a place, it won't offer much help. Similarly, recycling helps reduce waste, but it alone can't salvage a lot of the trash we produce.
The irony about the aforementioned analogy is that composting really isn't an "invention" at all — it's a natural process that occurs when organic matter combines with air and water to decompose into fertilizer and soil enhancement. It's not as though this is a man-made solution on which some rich guy holds a patent. Anyone can compost by creating the proper conditions, which aren't found in a conventional landfill.
Which begs the question: Why haven't our cities and towns been offering compost programs all along?
Actually, the city of Seattle does, and households are required by ordinance to participate, which is what stoked my interest in the first place. As far as I'm concerned, it's a no-brainer for any municipality. Through its composting initiative, Seattle alone diverts tens of thousands of tons of solid waste away from the landfill each year. This organic material is then recycled to help with gardening, farming, and landscaping. It lowers the costs of waste management, and the compost itself helps the ground better absorb rainwater, reducing storm runoff. Yes, decomposing material does stink — but I'd rather have a composting facility in my backyard than a toxic landfill.
What if every city in the United States offered a composting program? What if every town did? Again, considering these demonstrated benefits, why aren't they already? Why do we continue to throw compostable material into the garbage, and consequently, into the landfill? Nationwide, how many millions of tons of waste is that?
When I first started composting, I was surprised to learn just how many items qualify. As an avid coffee drinker, I was looking for a sustainable way to dispose of my spent grounds and filters. But coffee is pretty obvious. How about food-soiled paper plates? Or paper towels? Or napkins? Or pizza boxes? Or egg cartons? Along with fruits, vegetables, and other types of food scraps (including bones), these can all go in the composting bin. So can yard waste, like grass clippings, leaves, or decaying plants and flowers. All of this material can be responsibly returned to the earth instead of the landfill.
In that spirit, I now keep a small bin in my kitchen that's lined with a compostable bag (even though it looks and functions just like a regular trash bag). When the bag is full, I simply tie it and place it in the curbside food and yard waste receptacle. Once a week, the municipal service comes by and collects it. Simple, sustainable, and cost-effective. I don't know why this isn't standard protocol everywhere.
But you certainly needn't live in a community that offers a public composting service to do it yourself right in your own backyard. It's easy, cheap, and requires no special equipment. I don't have a backyard, but if I did, I would almost certainly try this. Yes, I'm that fanatical.
Regardless, in an era of environmental degradation, every piece of waste that we can keep out of our landfills is a step in the right direction. It's even better when we can actually turn that waste into something that benefits the planet and our quality of life. That's why every bag of compost that I deposit — along, of course, with my standard recyclable material — makes me feel just slightly better about myself.