Composting in the City: Yes, It’s Possible!

Americans waste half a billion pounds of food every day, which amounts to about 160 million dollars a year. The average New York City household throws out over two pounds of food waste per day. These numbers are huge. (A recent book by Jonathon Bloom titled American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) spends a little under 400 pages exploring why we waste so much.)

Courtesy of howstuffworks.com

I realized that I was contributing to this number in throwing away my inedible veggie parts and food scraps  (the stems of kale, garlic and onion skins, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc.) into the regular trash. But these kinds of scraps can be put to more efficient and responsible use elsewhere: compost. This is an almost effortless and cheap way to reduce waste.

What is compost? In the simplest terms, it’s a nutrient rich, dark soil that improves plant health – an organic farmer’s fertilizer. Composting is the act of breaking down the organic material (kitchen scraps in this case) often with the help of trusty, and hungry, worms. Now, it may seem a bit ridiculous to suggest that you start keeping a storage bin of rotting food in your apartment or that you breed worms in a 2′ x 3′ plastic container…or is it?

The least offensive way to keep discarded food in your apartment is to collect them in the freezer in a bucket, plastic grocery bag, or a compostable bag. There are all kinds of biodegradable bags available. I use

Borrowed from climatelab.org.

Bio Bag, which you can buy at Whole Foods and most other grocery stores. They are a little bit pricey, but they come with the added convenience of, well, being biodegradable.

Now what do you do with your bag of frozen scraps? For those of you not interested in keeping worms, you can drop off scraps every Sunday from 8AM to 5PM at the Lower East Side Ecology Center Community Garden (7th Street between avenues B and C). For the uptown (relatively) crowd, the LES Ecology Center has a drop-off station at the Union Square Greenmarket every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 8AM to 5PM. This is my preferred composting route because I can drop off scraps and then do my vegetable shopping all in one place.

Of course, there are drop-off sites in all five Burroughs that are associated with NYC Waste Less, a program run in conjunction with the LES Ecology Center and funded by the NYC Department of Sanitation, Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling. The LES Ecology Center & NYC Waste Less hold educational composting workshops, as well provide resources for those who are interested in worm-bin indoor composting.

The most confusing aspect of composting is knowing what you can and can’t compost. Here is a simple list, taken from the LES Ecology Center’s website:

TO COMPOST

  • fruit and vegetable peelings
  • non greasy food scraps or leftovers
  • rice, pasta, bread, cereal, etc.
  • coffee grounds with filter, tea bags
  • hair and nails (animal or human)
  • egg and nut shells
  • cut or dried flowers, houseplants, potting soil
  • NOT TO COMPOST

  • meat
  • dairy
  • oily foods
  • dog or cat feces. kitty litter
  • coal or charcoal
  • coconuts
  • diseased and/or insect infested houseplants or soil
  • And that’s it! Happy composting!

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    3 Comments on “Composting in the City: Yes, It’s Possible!”

    1. Stephanie, I love your blog. You do us ecofeminists proud.

    2. esgenlong says:

      “The LES Ecology Center & NYC Waste Less hold educational composting workshops, as well provide resources for those who are interested in worm-bin indoor composting.”
      Can about it more?


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