In our house, the best way to cut down on physical trash has been composting what we can in our backyard. Since moving into our home in May, we have put out our trash can four times, and the can has not even been half full any of those four times. It usually has one (compostable) bag of trash in it that has been sitting for a while, so we end up putting it out just to be rid of it- never because the can is anywhere near full. We also have gotten ourselves to putting out our recycling can once a month, and it has been full of almost exclusively glass, aluminum cans and cardboard. The only plastic recycling waste we have been consistently making is our tofu packaging. Now, in addition to those small wins, we have a whole composting system that I am proud to write about!
First, we started a small compost pile in the back of our yard along the tree line. We figured an open-air system far from the house would be the easiest to maintain- we just turn it over weekly and let it do its thing. After getting a little skunk family feasting on our pile, my husband built a structure around our pile out of old pallets and chicken wire. He made it complete with a door, so it is easy to access and turn over.
We started off using one of our trash cans in a drawer in our kitchen as a compost collection bin. I decided to use our shopping ads that we get in the mail as a liner for the can, so that the can would stay drier, and we can dump the entire thing into the pile since the thin paper composts pretty quickly. The can has no lid, and would smell way before getting anywhere near full, so I then resorted to using an old container that seals. I make a liner out of one page of an Acme or Shoprite ad each week, and once the container fills up, we dump the whole thing into the compost. Nice and easy!
So, you are probably wondering what you can and can’t put into the compost. This has been a learning curve for us, as I first thought you could really throw anything into it. However, you must maintain a balance where you don’t have too much of one item and not enough of another. We started off putting too much paper and cardboard in and not enough food scraps, and it wasn’t breaking down very well. With the new system of only putting in minimal paper, it seems to be working better. We started to save our cardboard to flatten and put in our gardens as natural mulch and weed block in the spring rather than composting it, because when you go zero-waste, almost everything comes in cardboard packaging. We have A LOT of cardboard go through this house. A lot of people have two compost systems, so if one gets off balance or needs to sit, they have another system to use for waste.
For the most part, our compost is made up of food scraps that we can’t use for anything else, lawn scraps, and weeds from our gardens. We save some veggie scraps in our freezer to make soup broths, but we compost a good bit of scraps that we haven’t figured out a use for yet. This includes peels from sweet potatoes, onions, butternut squash and bananas. You can’t compost anything that will grow microbes that will spoil the compost, which would be mostly meat scraps, but we don’t have to worry about that. If we end up with a particularly moldy tomato or something somehow, we just keep it out of the compost just in case.
You can also compost certain types of paper that I use occasionally, so I always put them in as well. This includes butter/margarine stick wrappers and parchment paper. We go through these around the holidays when I bake a lot, but I don’t have to feel guilty because I can compost them. I reuse parchment paper several times when baking, then when I need to get rid of it, I don’t have to trash it. I also compost the smaller cardboard items that are not boxes that we can flatten for our gardens, like my lip balm and deodorant tubes. We are trying to purchase more and more personal and food items that come in compostable packaging for this reason- we can let it break down in our yard and turn into soil for our vegetable garden rather than buy plastic that will end up in a landfill somewhere for years to come.
If you do not like the idea of having an open-air compost, you can also use a closed system. If you do not have the opportunity to compost outside, there are several countertop composting systems that are great for an apartment or condo. I have seen several programs in cities that will rent you a bucket that you can fill and leave on your porch for pickup for a community compost as well, depending on where you live. We did not live in an area that offered this, but when we rented before buying our house I was looking into a small indoor system, and was interested in the one sold by Pela, called Lomi. I am really happy with their phone cases, blue light and sunglasses, so I felt confident in purchasing their composting system. But, since we planned to move, I waited so we could do this big instead. I have also heard of a few apps, including ShareWaste, that connects you with people in your area that compost. You can either seek out neighbors that compost where you can drop off your scraps, or you can use it while on vacation. Isn’t that just so cool?! You can use an app to compost your apple cores and orange peels while on vacation- I just think that is so awesome, and I am 100% testing that out the next time I have a chance. I will keep you posted!