Wednesday, April 21, 2010

From Scrap to Soil

In case you're wondering, this is what a crazy environmentalist's freezer looks like, filled with a multiple months worth of food scraps. My alternative to composting is to collect food scraps in the freezer (rather than an open bin, to eliminate worries over mold and smells and fruit flies), and I'm supposed to drop off the bag every week or so at the Union Square Greenmarket on my way to work. However, I never really adjusted to my slightly longer commute after moving last summer, which means I've been lazy and letting bags of fruit and vegetable rinds pile up in our freezer, much to my boyfriemd's chagrin.

Ever since reading Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte, I have never been able to throw anything in a trash bin without the guilt that it will just pile up on a giant landfill somewhere, never to decompose. Even though a large majority of the trash we produce is organic matter, it is unlikely to actually break down because most landfills have anaerobic conditions that don't permit natural decomposition. For that reason, it is much better to divert food and other organic waste from the waste stream in the first place by composting.

However, I will admit that composting has remained one of those elusive green endeavors that intimidates me. Composting seems to involve spending money on a special structure, or the know-how to build your own. It involves the tricky business of getting the right combination of greens and browns. It can involve worms when done indoors. And I definitely don't want to deal with a compost heap if we do move in a few months. This is why I just collect my food scraps and leave the actual composting to the experts.

New York City doesn't have municipal compost pickup yet like Seattle and San Francisco, but that doesn't mean you're out of luck. If you're not able to compost in your home, you can drop off food scraps with the Lower East Side Ecology Center, which runs a fantastic system near the East River and sells compost and soil back to the public, and several community gardens maintain their own compost bins. This link lists drop off points around Manhattan and Brooklyn, but I'd also check with your local community garden, as I know some are not listed here, such as the North Brooklyn Compost Project. You could also check with friends, who might welcome additions to their own backyard compost bins. And regardless of whether or not you are a New Yorker, the nyc compost project website has some great resources for how to start your own compost pile.

The circle completed itself when I finally lugged all those bags of frozen produce to Union Square during "gardening weekend", and I got a little discount (shhh) for buying compost-enriched soil from LESC at the same time as donating scraps.

I also save money by reusing last year's soil. At the end of fall, I cut off dead stalks and mostly left roots and dirt intact in their pots in storage over winter. Come spring, many of the roots had decomposed, and I was able to use this soil, mixed half and half with fresh soil from LESEC for this year's gardening. My plants are all doing fine so far, so I think this method is sufficient in nutrients. So there, I guess I am starting to learn some gardening tricks!

UPDATE: There is a new food scrap drop off site in Brooklyn. Evoluntionary Organics at the Saturday Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket is now accepting food scraps for composting, starting this Saturday, May 1. They ask for a $1 donation each time you drop off to cover their costs involved in transport back to their farm in New Paltz and large scale composting. I'm so glad I won't have to schlep bags on the subway anymore. Hurray!


  1. I'm very impressed with your composting efforts! (and chuckled at the 'much to Jesse's chagrin' comment - hate to think what kind of response I'd get for filling up the freezer with food waste)

    I was brought up in a house where we always had a compost heap in the garden - no specialist equipment, everything just got chucked on and rotted down. My parents now never even slightly fill a bin with rubbish as they compost and recycle so much. I on the other hand, have lived in shared places with little or no outside space for 10 years and the whole time have been feeling the guilt over every banana peel that I throw in the rubbish, but not managed to find an alternative.

    I have tried to look for schemes in London such as the one you use, but come across nothing so far. And once I experimented with composting in a plastic box outside and just created an awful gakky stinking mess. I'm wondering if I can get something that will fit on a terrace that will compost now we actually have a little more space... You've inspired me to go and check it out again - it really is sad that so much stuff that can be turned into lovely living nutritious soil is just filling up disgusting landfills.

  2. We always had compost heaps growing up (BIG advantage to having a huge yard and never moving).

    I keep contemplating getting a worm system for our apartment, but so far I haven't pulled the trigger.

    Um, I realize this makes me THE WORST gardener ever, but I didn't realize you are supposed to refresh your soil every year. I just pulled out the few things that didn't last through the winter and stuck new things in there. Currently trying to find a coffee shop that will give me a bag of grounds. Starbucks used to do this as a matter of course, but apparently not anymore. Sad.

  3. this reminded me that i have a bag of food scraps that is just WAITING to go out to the yard-waste bin. (I am one of those super-lucky ducks who lives in Seattle where they pick up composting with yard waste). i did look into composting on my own (with worm bins either outside or tucked away under the sink) but I read a couple of horror stories about it (worm explosions and/or rotting worms. ick.) But I'm still intrigued by it. If I had a compost savvy friend to be my yoda/guru, I think I'd be all over that shiznit.

    nice job with composting - makes my little earth-loving heart happy :)

    xox - sarah

  4. Love your freezer photo--nice work indeed! :)

  5. Yes - nice work, lady! And I have no idea why Jessee would balk at the sight of your freezer. ;)


  6. Composting seems like such a delicate process. I wish we had somewhere to compost but our yard is so small its not really an option right now.

  7. LK - maybe your parents can give you some tips for how to get a little compost pile going better this time around on your terrace? good luck!

    Sarah - you are so lucky in seattle! the horror stories about composting scared me off too, but i'm glad there's so many alternatives.

    Rachel - i mean, i *think* you are supposed to enrich your soil each year, though what do i know about it. i know you drink a lot of tea - used tea leaves might be good for your soil too, check it out.

  8. really looks very untidy this refrigerator with this pile of dirty food!

  9. I have been visiting various blogs for my dissertation research. I have found your blog to be quite useful. Keep updating your blog with valuable information... Regards.Thank you very much Disertation writing, We appreciate your interest and suggestions.Thanks for the excellent contribution to the discussion.