Urban Composting And Why It Is Important!

urban composting may be a solution to food waste for many people

I have been blessed with an extremely fortunate childhood. As best I can remember, my parents cooked dinner for my sister and me almost every night, a trait that I carried with me into adulthood. For me, cooking is both a passion and hobby. I love to explore new recipes or ad-lib my own. If you are a fellow foodie you know the inevitable coinciding food waste that happens with cooking. Therefore, the goal of this blog post is to minimize that household food waste as much as possible. From excess scraps to uneaten leftovers, there are composting options available to you no matter where you live. I am writing this to you from a tiny apartment in Washington D.C. and I never would have believed even I could compost my food waste until I researched urban composting.

So, what is the difference between composting and simply throwing the food away? Well, when food is composted, decomposer organisms (digesters) help break down that food in a specific process that helps to fix carbon and nitrogen back into the soil. The primary byproducts of this process are carbon dioxide, water, and nutrient rich soil called compost. When food is allowed to rot in landfills, different microorganisms are allowed to act. The main byproducts of this process are carbon dioxide and methane. Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere. This contribution is so significant that if food waste were considered as a country, it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the 2021 United Nations Environment Programme. Considering that around 60% of food waste comes from home cooking, it is a significant area where we can make a change.

For those of us trying to compost at home and recycle our food scraps out of landfills, there are three primary options- community composting, garden composting, and indoor or urban composting.

Community composting comes in many shapes and sizes. There are many organizations in both rural and urban areas that are looking to collect and recycle food scraps. Drop-off locations seem to be the most common. All around DC there are farmers markets that host compost pickup on a weekly basis! I would encourage you to look in your home area to see what might be available to you. That being said, for those not looking or able to leave home, some organizations will come and collect your compostable material, much the same way your recycling and/or trash is picked up. There is usually a fee associated with this, but this fee can be government subsidized, volume reduced (if a lot of people in your area or building are participating), and/or relatively cheap to begin with. Much like a drop-off point, these pickup services are typically arranged once a week so you will need to find a way to store the food scraps in your home till the right time. There seems to be two excellent options for storing your unwanted food scraps for urban composting until your routine trip or scheduled collection time. There are many stylish container options at various price ranges that are air-tight, preventing smells and unwanted pests. Alternatively, if you have the space, you can simply place food scraps in your freezer until you are ready to then community compost them! We have a bin for all of our dry compostable items like old sponges, product packaging, or floss housing.

If you have access to a garden or outdoor plot, managing an outdoor compost can be an effective way to break down your extra food scraps and create nutrient rich soil for you to use! You actually do not need an excessive amount of outdoor space to participate in outdoor composting and have many options for systems that you can purchase or build. I would give extra consideration to the amount of food you intend to process and size needed to allocate for your system. Outdoor composting requires consistent maintenance/balance to make sure your composter is working correctly. However, with the right attention and care, this is an excellent self-sufficient way to minimize personal waste. With healthy systems that are large enough, you can even process other items besides food. Things like natural clothing materials (cotton, silk, linen, and wool, etc…), dryer lint, and wine corks (just the real cork) are all compostable!

For those of us with limited space looking to compost on our own, you can always try indoor or urban composting! There are several strong considerations when looking to indoor compost. There are plenty of options that range in prices. However, before purchasing or building one of these solutions, I would encourage you to research the correct size composter for your prospective load. You should expect about 18-20 gallons of processing space for a household of 2-4 people. There are two main types of urban composting – aerobic only and vermicomposting. Though there may be successful systems using just the microbes found in aerobic indoor composting, it seems that the more successful indoor systems use both the microbe and worm digestion found in vermicomposting! Vermi is the Latin root for, “worms,” and this type of system runs off of live earthworms. Vermicomposting is akin to keeping earthworms as pets. However, instead of buying food for them, you are able to feed them most of your kitchen scraps. In turn, these little red wigglers, with the aid of soil microbes, process your leftover food in your indoor composter. This is an excellent system because it is not dependent on weather or temperature (since it is in your house) and your vermicomposter has a consistent supply of food.

No matter your living situation, I hope that we are able to inspire you with some potential options for recycling your food. Composting is an amazing endeavor that exponentially helps to reduce a waste stream and limit greenhouse gas emissions. If you already have a compost or are thinking of starting one, we would invite you to check out this composting blog from the Texas city of Irving for a list of Do’s, Don’ts, and compost troubleshooting. Whether you are a seasoned composter or maybe trying it for the first time, please leave us your comments so others may share in the experience and maybe become inspired! 

Thanks!

United Nations Environment Programme (2021). Food Waste Index Report 2021. Nairobi.

United Nations Economic Commission For Europe (2019). Best Practice Guidance for Effective Methane Management in the Oil and Gas Sector. Geneva.

Carr, Rick. A Simple Guide to Vermicomposting. Rodale Institute. Jan. 2016.

Voberkova, S., et al. Food waste composting – Is it really so simple as stated in scientific literature? – A case study. Science of the Total Environment. June 2020.

Methane: A Crucial Opportunity in the Climate Fight. Environmental Defense Fund. 2021.