From Kitchen to Compost
A century ago, Karel Čapek, the science-fiction novelist who introduced the word “robot” into our vocabulary, wrote a book about gardening. More accurately, he wrote in praise of cultivating the soil. Long before our current era of plastic pollution, Čapek understood this: “Everything that exists is either suitable for the soil or it is not.”
As it turns out, one third of what we throw away is suitable. Food scraps and other organic waste can be turned to compost, and that requires sending those materials to a composting facility, not the landfill.
To create beneficial compost, the waste-material must be turned (aerated) and kept at a set temperature and moisture level. Conversely, when organic matter is left to decompose in the landfill (aka “the dump”) it emits methane, a destructive greenhouse gas. Composting food waste is not only an intelligent act, it is now being addressed by California State Law [SB 1383 Short-Lived Climate Pollutants: Organic Waste Methane Emissions Reduction].
This installment of The Zero Waste Challenge, originally published in the Sonoma West Times and News on June 27, 2019, has specific information for Sonoma and Marin Counties in California. Similar initiatives are in motion across the globe, but with some variations in how urban composting is accomplished. Please refer to your local waste management website for region-specific information, but read on! Feel free to comment on what works in your area, and what could be improved.
Our waste management company (Recology) makes it easy to divert organics from the landfill. The Green Cart is no longer just for yard trimmings! All kitchen scraps and compostable organics can be placed in the Green Cart. Once collected, the material is hauled to a facility where it will be transformed and returned to the earth as a soil nutrient.
I talked with Recology Waste-Zero Manager Celia Furber, who clarified that “Every household in Sonoma County has a Green Cart, and there is no limit to what food scraps can be placed in that cart.” The Recology Sonoma-Marin website provides a full list of what can/cannot be composted. Here are a few examples:
Yes! Food Scraps
- bones, meat, dairy, egg shells
- produce, citrus, fruit peels
- food that has gone bad
- processed foods
- bread and other baked goods
- candy (no wrappers)
- coffee grounds and tea leaves
To contain odors, collect kitchen scraps in a paper bag (or wrap them in newspaper) before placing in the cart. Food scraps can also be stored in the freezer and put out the night before collection.
Yes! Compostable Organics
- used paper towels, facial tissues and napkins
- paper coffee filters and tea bags
- shredded paper (no plastic)
- greasy pizza boxes and food-soiled paper
Cooking oils and grease must be placed in the Gray “rubbish” Cart. Freeze or absorb them in some other material before discarding.
Plastics labeled “compostable” should NOT be placed in the organics collection. Contrary to what manufacturers indicate, these products cannot be reduced to compost within a reasonable timeframe, and they are considered contaminates to the composting process. Planning a picnic? Go “retro” by using washable, reusable utensils and cutlery.
When in doubt, consult Recology Sonoma-Marin (Recology.com) for a complete list of items that do NOT belong in the Green Cart. Mixing questionable items with compostable ones will contaminate an entire load. Among the items that belong in the Gray Cart are: cat litter and animal feces, diapers, flower pots or trays, corks, non-organic material wrapped around food (like foil).
Furber closed our conversation with this thought: “If we, as a community, work to keep organic matter out of the landfill, it will be one of the most impactful actions taken to combat climate change. When our organic matter is turned to compost and applied to a field, it acts as a sponge—it sequesters carbon. It actually soaks up greenhouse gases. There is real power in composting.”
Cynthia Albers is a member of the City of Sebastopol Zero Waste Subcommittee. She also keeps her backyard compost bin active.
© 2019, Cynthia Albers, All Rights Reserved