Compost may be the most romantic form of recycling.
Sure, your aluminum can of LaCroix can be crushed, melted and remolded into another aluminum can of LaCroix. But your banana peel can feed thousands of critters, from worms and insects to bacteria and fungi, which slowly turn it into a nutritious soil amendment that will make your garden happier and healthier.
I admit that compost was off my radar for years, until my husband started working for the NYC Compost Project in 2013. After hopping on the compost train, we were amazed at the change in our chores. Instead of constantly taking out the trash in our tiny walk-up apartment, we collected a colorful bowl of food scraps in our freezer and dropped it off every Saturday morning at the neighborhood farmers’ market. We often rewarded ourselves with fresh blueberries and a sense of righteousness (which would later assuage our guilt over any forgotten moldy blueberries).
Our weekly compost drop-off tradition ended a year ago, when we moved back to Sheridan. Our city does not currently have a program for composting food scraps. In contrast to New York residents, many of us Sheridanites have the yard space for our own compost piles.
It may not seem like there is a special need for diverting food waste from landfills. However, many residents and most restaurants don’t have space or time to tend a compost pile. As a result, tons of food waste end up in our city landfill.
Why does this matter? As I’ve discussed in my previous two columns, landfills are problematic. Each “cell” has a lifespan of about a decade, during which it sucks up millions of taxpayer dollars and sends toxins into the soil, water and air. Every inch of space counts.
In a natural environment, a banana peel decomposes fairly quickly. In a landfill, decomposition is significantly slowed due to lack of oxygen. Anaerobic decomposition is incredibly dirty: The process emits a lot of methane, which is around 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
Luckily, the city of Sheridan is dedicated to conserving the landfill with its recycling and compost programs.
“Anything that we can keep from going to our landfill is beneficial to the whole community,” emphasized Charles Martineau, the city’s solid waste manager. “Preserving the life of the landfill is paramount for us.”
Currently, the sanitation department composts “any green waste — essentially, anything that grows,” Martineau told me. Residents drop off yard waste, such as leaves, weeds and clippings, in large green containers set up around Sheridan.
To make its compost, the city has pioneered an Ag-Bag system, a process that carefully regulates everything from temperature to oxygen to moisture. Samples from each batch are sent to a specialty lab in the Midwest to test for pathogens or dangerous metals. The result is “top-notch,” said Sheridan Utilities Director Dan Roberts. “It’s Class A, the best you can get as far as quality goes.”
The city’s compost is recycled to its parks and trees, community gardens and schools. It is also available for purchase at the affordable price of $32.14 per ton.
And now, Sheridan is ready to take its compost game to the next level.
This fall or winter, the city will introduce a pilot organics collection program focusing on commercial food waste. The program is still in early planning stages; so far, the team has identified about 25 target businesses, primarily grocery stores and restaurants.
This has the potential to make a huge impact on the amount of food waste that goes into our landfill. And who knows? Maybe the program will expand and invite residents to participate. Maybe my husband and I will resurrect our weekly compost drop-off tradition.
In the meantime, we tend our own pile. However, we are no longer allowing the righteousness of compost to assuage our guilt over forgotten moldy blueberries. Compost, like recycling, is a great tool for reducing waste that goes to the landfill — but waste is still waste.
Next week, in my last column of this series, I will explore the intimidating zero waste world. Wish me luck.
Author’s note: Have you tried to go #zerowaste? I want to hear from you! Please email email@example.com.