Recycling plastic, metal, and glass became popular in the U.S. during the 1970s, but recycling food scraps? Although composting may not be as recognized, the practice has existed since the early 1900s and still successfully minimizes food waste.
In a nutshell, composting is reusing organic material such as leaves, grass clippings and produce scraps.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the composting process requires three basic materials to produce effective fertilizer: browns, greens and water. Browns can include dead leaves and sticks, while grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps and coffee grounds are considered greens. The EPA reports that a compost pile should have a one-to-one ratio of browns to greens; doing so will provide the new soil with equal amounts of carbon and nitrogen.
The final ingredient, water, regulates the compost mixture’s moisture when added often enough. If soil is too dry, it will not fertilize plants as effectively compared to damp soil.
Mr. Aisthorpe, Ursuline math teacher and passionate gardener, has composted in his backyard since 2006—the year he moved from England to the United States. He notes that his parents have always composted in England, but he never initiated his own routine before coming to America.
As a committed compost-maker, he tends to his pile each day and gathers organic matter in a contained space so that it rots and becomes usable as fertilizer.
“I make compost daily,” Aisthorpe said. “For example, potato peelings get collected and put into the compost bin. Then the materials take a long time to decompose.”
To compost, one can compile scraps in an outdoor area or use a store-bought manual composter to isolate the matter. Aisthorpe uses a plastic green rotating composter for his pile.
Composting food scraps into fertilizer may seem high-maintenance, but Aisthorpe claims that the process is actually much less complicated than some may perceive.
“You have to keep daily, but it’s not difficult as long as you have somewhere to do it outside,” Aisthorpe said. “[The compost] happens on its own, so there’s no real work involved.”
Produce is compostable, but meat, eggs, animal bones, and dairy products can spoil the fertilizer and infect plants once it is used. Weeds, which tend to spread easily in gardens, should be kept out of the pile as well.
“I only put in fruit and vegetable scraps and leaves. I do not put in weeds or any animal products,” Aisthorpe said.
More broadly, beyond saving money on chemical fertilizer, composting has eco-friendly benefits that can drastically reduce landfill trash.
“It reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfill, and it produces fertilizer for my vegetable garden,” Aisthorpe said. “It also provides a habitat for bugs.”
This process can lead some to a zero-waste lifestyle since they do not contribute as much waste to landfill. After all, if a banana peel can be reused for another purpose, why waste its valuable nutrients by throwing it away?
“Ideally, I would like to live waste-free,” Aisthorpe said, “but I’m not sure that’s realistic for me, so I guess I’d just like to produce less trash.”
Composting is less extreme than living zero-waste, but recycling and composting limits garbage to non-recyclable plastics, Styrofoam, and food-tainted objects. Plastic straws and Styrofoam egg cartons, for instance, must be thrown away and not recycled. Going completely zero-waste would force someone to live without any non-recyclable or non-compostable items.
Aisthorpe concludes his experiences in the composting realm by encouraging others to join the composting community.
Aisthorpe said, “It feels good to do it. It encourages you to use outdoor space, and to go outside.”
Image courtesy of Ursuline Dallas