It’s been a while since I’ve touched on the topic of less waste, but there’s nary a day when I don’t think about our environmental impact nor is there a day that I haven’t spent every fiber of my being to reduce my own carbon footprint. We’ve cut our plastic purchases drastically since starting this intentional life, refusing to buy groceries in plastic packaging, avoiding takeout, and carrying our own reusable cups, utensils, and to-go containers. But still, I wanted something next level. What many people view as waste is actually a source of nutrients. The only real waste is the by-product of non-organic and non-biodegradable stuff, which we’ve tried to cut out of our life. Now that we’ve limited non-organic materials in our household, it’s time I turned my eyes, and this blog’s attention, towards composting.
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- The Ever Growing List of Things I’ve Given Up in the Name of Creating Less Waste
It isn’t something recent. I have been in search of composting options in Orange County for almost a year. Tales of composting services in grander metropolitan cities had me enamored. I was imagining a life of compost bins in freezers with weekly (or monthly, I’m not picky) pick-up services. I was drooling over the idea of a local drop-off site that I could walk to. Alternatively, dreams of connecting with local farmers as I help create fertilizer for their fields materialized.
Unfortunately, those thoughts were immediately dashed upon the realization that there are no public composting options in Orange County, AT ALL. I had called the Department of Waste Management, admittedly on multiple occasions, only to be told that there is no current existing composting service and neither will there be one in the near future. I asked the HOA if we could create a composting program in our community. I reached out to local farms, and despite having their own composting activity at their site, they could not welcome more composting from the public due to limited facilities. I read, called, spoke, to no avail. It was time to take matters into my own hands.
We currently live in a two-story loft with no land of our own. Research regarding composting generally led to the reminder that we are lacking garden space (see also: fruit and vegetable garden patch dreams). And while I’ve come across posts on how to compost in a plastic bin numerous times, I had my doubts. Yet, here I am. Desperate times, I suppose. Or rather, it’s about time I stopped wallowing and started doing.
As with any first-time experimental venture, I did “extensive research”, which really only entailed googling the words “at-home-compost” (or something to that effect) and reading the first few websites. Thankfully, a sweet girl that I had met at a local farm tour dedicated some time to walk me through the entire process and patiently answer my questions. She began the conversation with, “For many people, it is very difficult to get composting to work in an apartment space.” Challenge accepted.
I purchased a lidded plastic bin (the irony doesn’t escape me), with drill holes in the bottom of it that remains open to another tub that catches, who knows what. Dirt perhaps? Runaway worms?
Oh yeah. That’s the part I
forgot avoided to mention. It’s a worm bin. I took some dirt from the aforesaid farm’s existing composting site at the lovely girl’s suggestion, in the hopes that I’d also gather some hidden worms in the process. To my dismay, they weren’t so hidden. To my other dismay, they also weren’t quite enough, which then required me to purchase worms from a farm supply store in Orange County. I picked up 300 Red Wiggler Worms, and the name itself gives me the goosebumps. I’m not the girliest of girls, but snakes and eels are my biggest fears, and worms and other legless things are close contenders. But they are enthusiastic eaters, eating their weight in waste per day, so I knew they had to be the ones. I walked away from the farm supply store holding a bucket of worms at arm’s length. That’s how determined I was, yet not so determined that I didn’t wait for my husband and roommate to get home before having THEM do the transferring of worms from one bucket to the other.
Before detailing how to fill the bin, may we dissociate from what can and cannot count as compostable materials? Two types of waste can enter the bin: green waste and brown waste. Green waste includes things like coffee grinds (aplenty at our residence), egg shells (a common by-product of a baker), and vegetable and fruit peels and scraps. It is imperative to point out that not all food waste can go into a composting bin. Meats, dairy products and oils are foods that one must avoid putting in the bin. Brown waste, on the other hand, involves things such as egg cartons, cardboard, paper, and dead leaves fallen from indoor and outdoor houseplants. It should go without saying that anything with a plastic film cannot be de-composted.
Setting up the bin is theroretically easy. It involves a layering process. The formula that I followed was a layer of brown waste at the bottom, followed by a layer of dirt from the farm. I then placed a layer of green waste, followed by Red Wiggler worms. After the worms, I added a layer of moist brown waste that covered the bin entirely and was at least 2-3 inches thick.
Subsequent additions to the compost bin require a layer of green waste, topped by 2-3 inches of brown waste. Since our bin has limited space for a household of three people, we maximize our layers by placing a bowl in the freezer to collect green waste over the course of a week. The freezer keeps the green waste from rotting until we add it to the bin. Junk mail and egg cartons as well as cardboard have been sufficient in providing the necessary brown waste, which we collect in an old shoe box in the garage.
Aforementioned research indicates that frequent turning of the soil will improve the de-composting process. We plan to turn the soil at least once a week, just before adding more green waste, using a trowel. For the brave, bare hands or a stick will do.
Airflow is equally important. By using brown waste that are a bit bulky (shredded newspapers and weirdly shaped egg cartons), we allow air flow to occur. We never mash down the brown waste when we add it. I have also read that too much of one thing will prevent a successful compost bin. You don’t want a bin dedicated entirely to coffee grinds. It’s helpful to add a variety of green waste, to provide a large array of nutrients to the soil.
So now the question to address is where to keep such a bin in a tiny home? Suggestions included underneath the sink, but the thought of flies and bugs and worms in the kitchen will prevent me from peaceful sleep. Another suggestion was outdoors, but since we only have a tiny balcony, we decided against it. Plus, I think outdoor bins may attract more bugs and flies than indoor bins. Eventually, we settled on the garage, in the hopes that people were honest in saying that composting does not result in flies or stray worms. Only time will tell.
Overall, the process to set up was easy. I think the hard part comes next. Just as learning to understand plant growth takes time and experience, so too will composting have a learning curve. Some cons include limited space in our bin, which may run out more quickly than in other households considering how we cook everything from scratch. Another downside is the need to spend money in order to get this set up. It isn’t expensive by any means, but it isn’t free either. Lastly, the need to purchase a bin of some sort irks me. Plastic seems to be the best material, but I haven’t calculated whether the composting process would offset this initial ‘investment’, if successful.
Updates coming your way soon.
For those in OC wondering where we got our bin, visit the ecology center in SJC.